Learn about the students at the University of Sydney who are undertaking innovative research and making unique discoveries on behalf of the Lambert Initiative.
Anastasia Suraev graduated with a Bachelor of Advanced Science (Honours in Psychology) at the University of Sydney. Following this, she completed a Masters in Psychology (Clinical Neuropsychology) at the University of Melbourne in 2015, where her thesis focused on the cognitive outcomes of people with a severe and treatment-resistant epilepsy known as Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome.
In early 2016, she began working as a Clinical Research Officer at the Lambert Initiative where she coordinated the PELICAN research study. Currently, her main role involves providing expertise into decisions regarding study design and cannabinoid-based drugs on a range of clinical research projects. She also actively engages in community outreach through news media and invited talks on the topic of cannabinoid medicine. Anastasia is also partway through her PhD where she is coordinating a clinical trial examining the effects of a cannabinoid-based therapy on sleep and daytime function in people with chronic insomnia, which she is conducting in partnership with Sleep & Circadian Research Group at the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research.
Cilla graduated with a Bachelor of Science (Neuroscience) in 2015 at the University of Sydney, before joining Associate Professor Jonathon Arnold’s lab to complete a Graduate Diploma in 2016. Her graduate diploma project assessed the anti-trauma effects of cannabinoids in a mouse model of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), however since commencing a PhD in 2017 her project has encompassed the broader implications of cannabinoids as novel anti-inflammatory agents in a variety of diseases. Cilla is particularly interested in how chronic drug therapies instigate more long-term changes in brain biology and hopes this will lead to the discovery of novel therapeutics in PTSD and epilepsy.
Jack Markham is a PhD student in the School of Chemistry at the University of Sydney, under the supervision of Dr Samuel Banister. After completing a Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Chemistry in 2015 at the University of Sydney and a Dip. Software Development in 2016, Jack worked in a preclinical radiochemistry synthesis role with ANSTO and as an automation engineer in the private sector. He has now joined the Lambert Initiative Medicinal Chemistry team with a focus on synthetic medicinal chemistry and bioinformatics and modelling.
Jack’s work focuses on the predictive synthesis and characterisation of novel and recently detected Synthetic Cannabinoid Receptor Agonists (SCRAs) in order to provide healthcare and toxicological information should they be distributed by clandestine chemistry labs. His work will also include in silico modelling methods in order to predict properties and identify potential lead compounds for therapeutic applications.
Eric Sparkes is a PhD student in the School of Chemistry at the University of Sydney, under the supervision of Dr Samuel Banister. After completing a Bachelor of Medical Science (Honours) in Chemistry and Pharmacology in 2019, Eric continues in the Lambert Initiative Medicinal Chemistry team with a focus on organic and synthetic medicinal chemistry.
Eric’s work focuses on the development of small molecule therapeutics to probe the cannabinoid system in order to increase the understanding of cannabinoid receptor targets, as to optimise existing cannabinoid therapeutics and develop new drug candidates. Investigation of structure-activity relationships in bioactive cannabinoids and scaffold development are the major focuses of Eric’s work at the Initiative, with potential application as new treatments in metabolic diseases, such as obesity, diabetes and associated chronic kidney diseases.
Ayshe Sahinovic is an honours student in the School of Pharmacology at the University of Sydney. She will be working under the supervision of Dr Danielle McCartney and Associate Professor Jonathon Arnold, and alongside a team of researchers at Griffith University to investigate the effect of cannabidiol (CBD) on exercise physiology. Ayshe is particularly interested in human movement and the benefits it imparts on health and wellbeing. .
Cassandra is completing her honours year in the discipline of pharmacology under the supervision of Associate Professor Jonathon Arnold and Dr Anand Gururajan.
In a focus to discover safer and more effective treatments, her project seeks to characterise the behavioural pharmacology of various phytocannabinoids in the context of sleep and evaluate their therapeutic potential to treat sleep disorders. Cassie is particularly interested in the application of cannabinoids for the treatment of sleep disturbances related to mood disorders.
Thomas is undertaking the Honours year of a Bachelor of Science with the Discipline of Pharmacology, under the supervision of Associate Professor Jonathon Arnold.
His research project will involve pharmacological screening of synthetic cannabinoid derivatives in a mouse model of Dravet Syndrome. Specifically, Thomas aims to determine the pharmacokinetic parameters for the cannabinoid derivatives and assess their anticonvulsant properties against hyperthermia-induced seizure, spontaneous seizures as well as survival outcomes in the Dravet mouse model.
Xinyi is completing a Graduate Diploma in Science, majoring in Chemistry, under the supervision of Dr Samuel Banister after graduating from The Australian National University with a Bachelor of Science (Chemistry) in 2019.
Xinyi's research project involves the design and synthesis of novel "synthetic cannabinoids". She aims to modify existing chemical scaffolds with synthetic chemistry to develop potent and efficacious ligands for cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2, that will be confirmed with pharmacological cellular screening.
Dilara completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Sydney, a Bachelor of Science (Neuroscience) with First Class Honours in 2014. In 2015, she joined Associate Professor Jonathon Arnold’s team to undertake a PhD in cannabinoid pharmacology.
Under the supervision of A/Prof Arnold and Dr Lyndsey Anderson, Dilara's research focused on the preclinical development of cannabinoids as a treatment for Dravet syndrome.
Abstract: Dravet syndrome (DS) is a paediatric encephalopathy associated with intractable seizures and detrimental behavioural impairments; with a dire need for improved therapeutic options. DS results largely from loss-of-function mutations in the voltage-gated sodium channel gene SCN1A. Heterozygous deletion of Scn1a in mice mimics epilepsy features seen in patients but severity of the DS phenotype is background strain-dependent in mice, indicating the presence of phenotype-modifying genes that could serve as drug targets. Comparing expression between seizure-resistant and seizure-susceptible strains of mice can identify candidate targets, which can then be evaluated pharmacologically or genetically for their ability to modify the DS phenotype. The endocannabinoid system holds therapeutic potential as it regulates neuronal activity, so we used a DS mouse model to explore this system for potential druggable targets. We measured less cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1R) expression but more G protein-coupled receptor 55 (GPR55) expression, along with lower levels of their respective endogenous ligands, 2-AG and LPI, in the hippocampus of mice on the seizure-susceptible strain. We then showed that potentiation of endocannabinoid signalling with a MAGL inhibitor or a CB1R positive allosteric modulator, and heterozygous deletion of the Gpr55 geneexhibited anticonvulsant properties in the mouse model, supporting the role of CB1R and Gpr55 for the therapeutic management of DS. During our investigations we also discovered additional targets with phenotype-modifying potential that require further investigation. Finally, we also improved upon the DS mouse model by characterising adolescent behavioural phenotype to better model the behavioural impairments observed in paediatric DS patients. We identified impairments in measures of social, cognitive and attentional behaviours, and thus provide an early-intervention platform to evaluate potential behaviour-modifying molecular targets or drugs.
Kristie graduated with a Bachelor of Science (Psych) from the University of Wollongong in 2011, followed by a Master of Brain and Mind Sciences at the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre in 2012.
Abstract: Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a debilitating mental health condition, can occur as a consequence of exposure to a traumatic, potentially life-threatening event or series of events. Debilitating intrusive thoughts, hyperarousal, and negative alterations to cognition and mood are symptoms that persist over time, often becoming progressively worse. The modest efficacy of treatment options for PTSD highlights a crisis in PTSD drug development necessitating the discovery of novel pharmacological drug targets. One potential target is microglia, the brains immune cells, which are implicated in stress responses and dendritic spine remodelling and may explain grey matter reductions in PTSD. We report elevated densities of hyper-ramified microglial cells across stress-responsive corticolimbic structures coinciding with neuronal dendritic spine loss 32 days after footshock. We then investigated genetic vulnerability for PTSD through deletion of P-glycoprotein (P-gp), a transporter regulating brain uptake of corticosteroid stress hormones. P-gp knockout (KO) increased depression and anxiety-related behaviours, however, decreased conditioned fear responses following footshock. Independent of genotype, footshock decreased microglial density in several amygdaloid nuclei. Irrespective of footshock, P-gp KO led to an increased number of hypo-ramification microglia in the CA3. Finally, we investigated the effect of genetic deletion of P2x7, a receptor predominantly localised on microglia regulating release of IL-1β. This cytokine is associated with depression, bipolar disorder, and heightened aggression. P2X7 KO reduced aggression in mice, however this did not coincide with changes to microglial cell densities. P2X7 receptor deletion also decreased obsessive-compulsive behaviours, often a co-morbid diagnosis with PTSD. The P2X7 receptor, therefore, may serve as a novel target for serenic therapeutics for treatment of PTSD arousal and reactivity.
Thomas Arkell has a background is in psychology and philosophy and has been with the Lambert Initiative since our inception. Thomas' research focused on the effects of cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) on driving performance and cognition.
Thomas recently submitted his PhD thesis for examination.