From the Director

We hope our mid-winter newsletter finds you safe and well. As we say goodbye to the first half of the year, we look to the future with optimism, preparing for the new normal. As COVID-19 restrictions begin to ease, we are planning to safely return to campus under the University’s carefully managed stages, gradually recommencing research, teaching and learning activities on campus.

Over the last three months, navigating through rapid change and the uncertainty of the COVID-19 environment we have witnessed the very best in colleagues and our external partners, including positivity, compassion, adaptability, flexibility and resilience. The actions and leadership demonstrated from our University executives and our Institute researchers and staff, have made me appreciate just how strong we are together. The University’s rapid response to COVID-19 saw the establishment of the Student Assistance Fund, ongoing donations from senior executives, tireless contributions from staff and so many significant adaptations and sacrifices within the University community. These well thought out changes have helped us to work through this life-changing experience together and made the University and NICM Health Research Institute all the stronger.

At the commencement of COVID-19 restrictions we were midway through 11 human clinical trials, all of which had to be rapidly adapted to the requirements of social distancing. Our teams of clinicians and researchers worked closely and rapidly with our University and external ethics committees across the country to ensure patient and clinician safety were paramount. It has been a challenging last six months, but we have worked hard together and our essential research has carried on where possible, including in our laboratories. In our policy related work, we have been actively supporting through submissions and Government meetings the delegate-initiated proposal to down schedule cannabidiol (CBD) from Schedule 4 to Schedule 3 in the Standard for the Uniform Scheduling of Medicines and Poisons (SUSMP) allowing pharmacists to dispense CBD. We also provided feedback to the new Data Protection Scheme through the Therapeutic Goods Amendment (2020 Measures No. 1) Bill 2020, which if effective will position Australia as an international leader in research and innovation in complementary medicines.

You will also read in this issue, the outstanding result of Associate Professor Steiner, awarded a prestigious NHMRC Investigator Grant, worth $1.5 million for her project, ‘Teaching an old brain new tricks: optimising cognitive training through neuroplasticity’.

We also proudly share the news of the University’s recent rankings, now third in the world in the Times Higher Education (THE) Impact Rankings in addressing the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. In addition, the THE Young University Rankings placed Western Sydney University equal 36th in the world amongst young universities.

These achievements showcase our growing reputation as a world-leader in education, research and innovation, and our University as a beacon for attracting and retaining world-class academics and researchers.

This month we welcomed the talented Dr Tianqing (Michelle) Liu as the Vice-Chancellor’s Research Fellow, Pharmacology and Natural Products Chemistry recipient, and our two new PhD scholarship recipients, NICM HRI and Blackmores Institute Scholarship recipient, Emma Wong and NICM HRI and Jacka Foundation of Natural Therapies Scholarship recipient Alison Maunder.

We’re also pushing forward with our work on the translation of the scientific evidence in complementary and integrative medicine into accessible summaries for clinicians and patients. We were thrilled to receive an anonymous donation to support this activity over the next three years and will continue to work closely with key researchers and practitioners to address these information needs.

I enjoy every moment of this growth at our Institute and University, and after a long and rewarding career of more than 35 years in complementary medicine, this will be my last newsletter address, as I finally step down as Institute Director. Of course, I have never envisaged retirement for me as a hard stop, and will continue to serve the mission and vision of the Institute in an ongoing fashion. As I embark upon my long service leave over the coming months, Professor Dennis Chang is our very capable Acting Director, and we anticipate the selection of the incoming NICM HRI Director will be finalised soon, to commence next year.

The incoming Institute Director will be blessed with an amazing team of bright colleagues and a fabulous opportunity to build upon our wealth of talent and the next generation of complementary and integrative medicine researchers. NICM HRI will continue to build itself as a beacon for conducting world-class research and advancing the science of integrative medicine.

With best wishes and thank you to all for your ongoing support over the years,

Professor Alan Bensoussan

10 July 2020