Masters (Honours) Research Opportunities

Project TitleAimSupervisor/s

Healthy women

The women's health program at NICM covers menstrual health of young women, pregnancy, infertility, menopause and gynaecological disorders.

The role of acupuncture and complementary therapies in weight loss in breast cancer survivors
  1. To describe the prevalence of use of complementary therapies to manage weight gain in breast cancer survivors.
  2. To conduct focus groups/interviews of BC survivors to assess feasibility and acceptability of acupuncture for weight loss.
Professor Caroline Smith

Dr Carolyn Ee

Development of a treatment protocol for pre birth treatment PDF, 104.61 KB (opens in a new window)
  1. To undertake  focus groups with pregnant women to explore their views towards pre-birth acupuncture.
  2. To develop acupuncture treatment protocols for cervical ripening for women.
Professor Caroline Smith

Dr Mike Armour

Dr Debra Betts

The role of acupuncture with achieving weight loss prior to gynaecology surgery PDF, 87.99 KB (opens in a new window) To undertake a feasibility randomised controlled trial of acupuncture compared with a wait list control. Professor Caroline Smith

Dr Carolyn Ee

Acupuncture to treat sleep disorders during pregnancy: development of a treatment protocol  PDF, 77.9 KB (opens in a new window) Sleep disorders are common during pregnancy. During the first trimester there is increased daytime sleepiness, as well as total sleep time. Rising hormone levels during this period may partially account for these changes. During the second trimester there is an increase in night time awakenings. Compression of the bladder, as a result of increasing uterine size, means more frequent urination. Other factors such as heartburn and increasing fetal movements may further fragment sleep. During the third trimester, physical changes cause significant discomfort and can impair the ability to fall asleep, as well as maintain sleep. Recently, disturbed sleep has been regarded as a potential pathological agent in disorders of carbohydrate metabolism and gestational diabetes.

Acupuncture has been used to treat sleep disorders in non pregnant populations. This study will examine the feasibility of conducting research using this treatment with pregnant women, and develop a treatment protocol for use in future clinical studies.

Professor Caroline Smith
Complementary therapies to assist with anxiety disorders in young women
  1. To undertake a literature review of CM modalities used to assist with managing anxiety
  2. To examine women's interest to participate in a clinical study
Professor Caroline Smith

Dr Carolyn Ee

Provision of health information to women on CMTo examine health literacy and decision making regarding women's healthProfessor Caroline Smith

Dr Mike Armour 

Developing, implementing and evaluating a model of care for integrative women's health in an academic clinic
  1. Involves conducting a systematic reviews
  2. Qualitative research on how to integrate well-evidenced complementary therapies into routine care for female reproductive health (pregnancy and birth/fertility/gynaecology)
Dr Carolyn Ee 
Cochrane systematic review: Chinese herbal medicine for female sub-fertilityTo investigate evidence of effectiveness and safety on use of CHM for female sub-fertility conditionsAssociate Professor Xiaoshu Zhu
The role of non-pharmacological interventions to reduce anxiety and stress in pregnancy among high risk pregnant womenOne in three women will experience anxiety during their lifetime. Anxiety conditions can happen at any time, but women are more likely to experience these conditions during pregnancy and following having a baby (the perinatal period). Anxiety is a serious disorder with documented adverse impacts on the mother, her family and on child development in the longer term. Stress during 12 months prior to the birth of a baby is an independent risk factor for preterm birth. 
Current interventions to manage anxiety in pregnancy frequently lack evidence of effectiveness. In addition treatments can have short term efficacy, and treatment compliance can be impacted by concerns about stigma, doubts that therapy will help, a lack of trust, and low motivation to use current options. This project would undertake a review of the evidence of non-pharmacological interventions, and feasibility studies with women regarding their participation in future studies involving these interventions.
Professor Caroline Smith
A smartphone application (mHealth) to treat period pain using acupressure and self care: a randomised controlled pilot studyPeriod pain is the most common gynaecological complaint with up to 75% of women reporting period pain during some stage of their life. Period pain impacts on many aspects of life, resulting in increased absenteeism from work or university, reduced participation in sport and social activities and reduced academic performance. Current treatments either have limited effectiveness or the side effects are unacceptable. Acupuncture is effective in reducing period pain, however the monetary and time commitment can be prohibitive for many women. Acupressure, the application of finger pressure also reduces pain, and has the advantage of being self administered, is easily taught and involves no cost. In recent years, the use of smartphones and smartphone applications (apps) has increased rapidly with more than 165,000 mobile health apps on the market. Apps are a promising tool for people with a diverse range of health conditions and may be particularly useful to guide and support individuals in self care strategies. A novel app to deliver acupressure and self care has been developed by an international team of experts working in this area. We have been approached to collaborate in an Australian setting.Dr Mike Armour

Professor Caroline Smith
Understanding health seeking behaviour in women with VulvodyniaVulvodynia is characterised by vulvar pain lasting at least three months, and occurs without clear identifiable cause. The pain is often described as burning, cutting, or aching. This pain can greatly interfere with a woman's life; particularly impacting sexual function, social interactions with friends and family, mood, and their ability to function to their full capacity at work. Despite the negative impact of the condition on health and wellbeing, women with vulvodynia tend to delay seeking help for their pain. When they do seek help, women often visit multiple health professionals with little success with managing this pain. Common healthcare professionals these women see include general practitioners, gynaecologists, psychologists, and physiotherapists. Understandably, this process of seeing multiple healthcare professionals can be very costly.

To date, no studies have investigated the health-seeking behaviour that Australian women with vulvodynia display. We do not know how many health professionals these women see, nor the type of health professional they are consulting in order to find relief from their pain. Furthermore, no studies have investigated the direct and indirect costs that vulvodynia has on the lives of women in Australia.

Dr Mike Armour

Professor Caroline Smith
Complementary and integrative therapies in women's health centres in NSW: a mapping surveyWomen are frequent users of complementary therapies, and some complementary therapies have shown promise in treating women's health conditions such as premenstrual syndrome. Indeed, complementary therapies are beginning to be integrated into conventional health care. Some women's health centres have included complementary therapies such as acupuncture and naturopathy in their model of care. This project involves a mapping survey of women's health centres in NSW and will describe the complementary therapies that are currently provided, the credentialing process for practitioners, the reasons for not providing complementary therapies (if none are provided), and the funding model for provision of complementary therapies. The findings from this project will directly inform the model of care for an academic integrative medicine clinic at Western Sydney University.Dr Carolyn Ee
Acupuncture for weight loss in PCOS: a Delphi studyPolycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a common female reproductive health problem. Weight gain is common and exacerbates all the features of PCOS, and even modest amounts of weight loss can improve PCOS features. Acupuncture is a potentially efficacious adjunctive treatment for weight loss when provided alongside standard lifestyle interventions, and may act by reducing appetite and normalising the sympathetic nervous system. However, the most effective dose of acupuncture for weight loss in PCOS is unclear. This project aims to achieve consensus amongst acupuncture practitioners on the optimal dose of acupuncture for weight management in PCOS, using the Delphi consensus method. Findings will inform practice as well as the optimal dose to be used in a randomised clinical trial of acupuncture for weight loss in PCOS.Dr Carolyn Ee

Healthy minds

The neurological and mental health program at NICM focuses on the prevention and treatment of dementia and neurocognitive decline and improvement of mental health in response to integrative medicine treatment.

Complementary medicine use by people living with dementiaWhen conventional therapies are limited people living with chronic diseases such as dementia use a wide range of complementary medicines.  The aim of this project is to assess the global prevalence of complementary medicine use by people living with dementia.Dr Genevieve Steiner 

Professor Dennis Chang

Indigenous bush medicines as a source of anti-inflammatory compounds for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease
  1. To determine the potency of a variety of extracts from indigenous bush medicines to down-regulate the LPS, IFN-γ -induced production of free radicals (superoxide and nitric oxide) and pro-inflammatory cytokines (IL-6 and TNF) in immortalized murine microglia (anti-inflammatory potential).
  2. To fractionate potent extracts and ultimately isolate the active compound, and determine its / their chemical structure (s) using modern analytical and spectrometric methods.
Professor Gerald Muench

Dr Erika Gyengesi

Effect of acupuncture on neuroplasticity  Professor Alan Bensoussan
Functional connectivity in older adults

Neuroplasticity is thought to be one of the mechanisms behind cognitive reserve – the reason why cognition declines in some people and not others as we age.  This project will identify neuroplastic mechanisms by exploring how task and resting-state brain networks change with age.

Dr Genevieve Steiner
Electrophysiological correlates of decision making strategies in older adults

Older adults tend to use strategies that emphasise task accuracy over speed, where young adults, typically do the reverse, emphasising speed over accuracy.  There are distinct changes in brain function with age, but it is unknown whether any of these changes are actually due to the task strategy, rather than age-related pathology.  This project will explore this important question by assessing differences in the brain function that underpins decision-making strategies in young and older adults.

Dr Genevieve Steiner
Electrophysiological biomarkers of Alzheimer's disease

This project will triangulate data from a range of sources in order to identify novel, inexpensive, yet widely available biomarkers of Alzheimer's disease.  Applicants with  a back ground in neuroscience, anatomy and physiology, medical science, or computer science would have a distinct advantage.

Dr Genevieve Steiner

Professor Dennis Chang
Using plasma concentrations of a standardised multi-herb formula to assess trial medication complianceAssessing drug plasma concentrations provides an objective measure of compliance in clinical trials.  This pharmacokinetic project will assess the plasma concentrations of a multi-herb formula in samples collected from people with mild cognitive impairment participating in a clinical trial.Dr Genevieve Steiner

Professor Dennis Chang

Healthy lives post-cancer

The cancer care program at NICM focuses on understanding how integrative medicine may assist with cancer management and side effects of conventional cancer treatment.

Chinese herbal medicine for lung cancer: a systematic reviewTo understand overall research strengthen in the fieldAssociate Professor Xiaoshu Zhu
Acupuncture for cancer-related symptoms: protocols and safety considerations PDF, 95.64 KB (opens in a new window) To create protocols for the acupuncture treatment of cancer-related symptoms and document any safety considerations for specific symptoms. Dr Suzanne Grant

Associate Professor Xiaoshu Zhu  

Exploring evidence of safety of use of Chinese herbal medicine for women with breast cancer PDF, 95.78 KB (opens in a new window) To evaluate the contents of phytoestrogens in defined Chinese herbal formula Associate Professor Chun Guang Li

Associate Professor Xiaoshu Zhu  

Anti-cancer actions of Chinese herbal medicines  Associate Professor Chun Guang Li

Associate Professor Xiaoshu Zhu

Dr Henry Liang

Associate Professor Qihan Dong

Healthy hearts

The cardiovascular and metabolic health program at NICM focuses on understanding how integrative medicine can assist with the prevention and treatment of various cardiovascular and metabolic diseases.

In vitro activity of the Chinese medicinal herb, Nao Xin Qing for the treatment of stroke PDF, 127.12 KB (opens in a new window)
  1. To assess the antioxidant activity and effect on endothelial dysfunction of the components of the standardised herbal extract, NXQ.
  2. To determine the synergistic or additive nature of these components.
Professor Dennis Chang

Dr Sai Wang Seto 

Regulation of tight junction proteins claudin and occludin by herbal medicine in endothelial cellsThis in vitro study will assess the action of herbal medicine on the expression of tight junction protein critical to the blood brain barrier function.Professor Dennis Chang

Dr Sai Wang Seto 

Effects and mechanism of actions of herbal medicines in vascular reactivityThis project will investigate the vascular effects of Chinese herbal medicines for the treatment of hypertension, stroke and/or diabetes-related vascular complications using both ex vivo and in vivo models.Dr Sai Wang Seto 

Professor Dennis Chang

Effects and mechanism of actions of herbal medicines in neurovascular unit (NVU)This study aims to develop novel herbal formula for the treatment of cerebrovascular diseases, such as stroke, Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia. The effects and mechanisms of action of herbal preparations will be assessed using a co-culture model of neurovascular unit.Dr Sai Wang Seto 

Professor Dennis Chang 

Association between vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids with cognition assessed by a computerised batteryTo determine the association between vitamin D and omega-3 status and cognition as assessed by a computerised battery and EEG testing. Serum vitamin D and fatty acid status will be measured and vitamin D and omega-3 intake from foods will be assessed by a validated food frequency questionnaire.Professor Dennis Chang

Dr Genevieve Steiner

Nutrient supplementation and complementary medicine use in people with type II diabetesThis project will assess the use of nutritional supplements and complementary medicine practices by people living with type II diabetes.Professor Dennis Chang
Synergy of natural productsThis research is linked to an ARC funded project to investigate the synergy of natural ingredients in modulating cell functions. The project will focus on anti-inflammatory cell signalling mechanisms, and involve cell culture and bioassay techniques. The student will be supervised by a team of experts including senior researchers and postdoctoral fellows.Associate Professor Chun Guang Li

Policy and evidence translation

The integrative medicine policy and evidence translation at NICM focuses on working with government to build appropriate policy frameworks and improving integrative healthcare practice by translating high-quality research into relevant guidleines and practice protocols.

Practising Chinese medicine in non-private practice PDF, 101.26 KB (opens in a new window) To explore the work experience of TCM practitioners who work in other than private practice settings, focusing particularly on the benefits and dilemmas of working in an integrated team and working with clients who do not pay directly for service.Dr Suzanne Grant
Complementary and integrative therapy education for medical doctors and allied health in Australia: a scoping reviewComplementary therapies, such as acupuncture, herbal medicine, nutritional supplements and yoga, are used by more than half of the population. Research shows that patients frequently fail to disclose complementary therapy use to their health professionals, which may lead to harm. Health professionals such as GP's are well placed to advise patients on potential risks and benefits of complementary therapies in order to facilitate informed choice, however there is no systematic training in undergraduate or postgraduate curricula which allows doctors to perform this.

This project is a scoping review of current educational offerings which provide basic training to medical doctors and allied health professionals (such as nurses and pharmacists) in Australia. The aim of the project is to map the current state of complementary and integrative medicine training in Australia, identify gaps, and propose methods to address these gaps. The outcome of this project will inform a systematic and national approach to equip doctors and allied health professionals in quality patient care, by facilitating informed choice and reducing complications from undetected interactions and inappropriate use of complementary therapies.

Dr Carolyn Ee

Other emerging areas of complementary medicine research

NICM is also involved with a number of other areas of research including the identification of bioactive compounds found in natural products and complementary medicine approaches to addressing other common and problematic medical conditions. As with all other concentrations of research, these projects can have a focus of laboratory based work, clinical research, increasing an understanding of complementary medicine use or translating research into policy and practice.
Development of new metal-based derivatives of natural products for medical applications  Associate Professor Chun Guang Li

Dr Feng Li

Australian medical honey and propolis - chemistry and bioactivityThe student will join a well-established research group at NICM to study Australian medical honey or propolis. This industry project will involve characterisation and identification of active molecules in Australian honey or propolis and study their antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and anticancer activities. The research will enable the student to develop advanced analytical skills and bioassays to gain practical experience in solving real-world problems. Students with a strong chemistry background are encouraged to apply. Dr Li has conducted a number of research projects supported by ARC, NHMRC and various funding bodies, with more than 150 publications and 30 PhD and MSc competitions. There are strong links/collaborations between research theme groups at NICM.Associate Professor Chun Guang Li