Q&A with Dr Phoebe Zhou

15 September 2022

A Q&A with Dr Phoebe Zhou on her career, new challenges ahead and some of the topics her team will work on in 2022 and beyond. Dr Zhou is a Research Support Program Fellow, Natural Products, Cardiovascular Disease and Mental Health at NICM Health Research Institute. She joined the Institute in 2011 as a research assistant working in quality control and herbal analysis. Her research focuses on synergistic mechanisms of natural products and complex herbal formulations.

What drew you to complementary and integrative medicine research?

Chinese Medicine was part of my youth and culture, and so as a Bachelor of Pharmacy student in China, I developed an interest in understanding the therapeutic effect of Chinese medicine. When I moved to Australia as an international student I continued with my learning and NICM HRI gave me the opportunity to advance my expertise in the same area.

What do you love about research?

Every day is different, dynamic and challenging. I am passionate about learning and solving problems, and with that, a sense of achievement. I like to collaborate with international colleagues, share new ideas and inspire each other, and achieve fruitful research outcomes with high impact. I enjoy being a role model for my students and helping with their growth and development as researchers.

What brought you to NICM HRI?

NICM HRI is internationally recognised for evidence building in complementary and integrative medicine, and they provided funding and support to collaborate with international partners to further the evidence base for Chinese medicine.

What are you currently working on?

I am working on several projects with international industry and university partners focused on synergistic interactions of herbal medicines. I’m collaborating on a preclinical project with Xiyuan Hospital, China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences to develop a synergistic herbal formula against COVID-19-induced cytokine storm, and an ongoing project with the Australian Board of Chinese Medicine to develop and maintain a Nomenclature Compendium. Additionally, I am also working on renewing and growing collaborations with our partners which were on hold due to the pandemic.

What is your next project?

I’m planning to investigate a research model for anti-inflammatory and toxicity testing in NICM HRI’s new PC2 laboratory here at Westmead. Once developed the model can be used to further investigate the efficacy and safety of herbal formulations from cell lines to whole organisms.

What has been the most rewarding research project in your career so far?

Once I graduated with my PhD, I continued with research in an ARC-funded project which investigated the synergistic mechanism of functional foods against inflammation. This further helped me to develop my skills in research and working in research collaborations. This has led to four of my research papers being published in top journals and recently a provisional patent which may lead to a new commercial product.

What has been the best career advice you’ve ever received?

Developing as an early career researcher, I was trying to multitask between many projects, HDR supervision, collaborations and being a new mum. The best advice given to me at this time was to find my career goal and work towards that strategically. Don’t waste time with tasks or things that do not move you towards your goals. This helped me develop my research plan, focus my efforts and be more realistic about what I can achieve.

What is your favourite aspect of your role?  

I like to collaborate with different partners to build evidence for Chinese herbal medicines, provide scientific evidence and fill the gap in knowledge between clinical practice and herbal formulations. I like to help develop the skills and transfer my knowledge and problem-solving skills to my HDR candidates. Also, I like to see all these efforts recognised in scholarly journals and conference presentations. I have published 15 papers so far this year. I am excited to also represent NICM HRI and our research findings as an invited speaker to VitaFood Asia 2022. I’ll be traveling to Bangkok, Thailand for this conference in October to present my research on synergistic mechanisms in functional foods.