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PhD and research students

Meet our research PhD, honours and masters students

Learn about the students at the University of Sydney who are undertaking innovative research and making unique discoveries on behalf of the Lambert Initiative.

Current Students


Maia Etchart

PhD candidate

Recipient of a Barry and Joy Lambert PhD Scholarship

Maia has completed a Bachelor of Science at the University of Sydney, majoring in Neuroscience and Pharmacology and a Masters in Brain and Mind Science (University of Sydney). During her Masters degree, Maia began her journey at the Lambert Initiative under the supervision of Associate Professor Jonathon Arnold and Dr Lyndsey Anderson, where she investigated the pharmacology and metabolism of cannabinoids, and which she continued working on as a research assistant.

Unable to quench her thirst for cannabinoid research, Maia has decided to embark on a PhD in Pharmacology under the supervision of Associate Professor Jonathon Arnold and Professor Iain McGregor. Her research will revolve around investigating cannabinoids for the treatment of Dravet Syndrome and other epileptic disorders. She will use cellular pharmacology to investigate cannabinoids and next-generation structural analogues at well-known and emerging epilepsy targets to determine how cannabinoids are eliciting their anticonvulsant activity, and to discover novel anticonvulsant drugs. 


Isobel Lavender

PhD candidate

Recipient of a Barry and Joy Lambert PhD Scholarship

Isobel graduated with a Bachelor of Psychology (Honours) with First Class Honours from the Australian National University. Her Honours research examined bidirectional relationships between stress, hyperarousal and sleep impairment. Isobel’s commitment to improving mental health has been demonstrated by her post-graduation work as a Research Assistant at the Black Dog Institute (University of New South Wales) on the use of smartphone intervention in preventing mental illness and her volunteer work as Telephone Crisis Supporter at Lifeline.

Last year, Isobel joined the Lambert Initiative as a Research Assistant within the clinical team and this year has progressed to commence a PhD is Psychology under the supervision of Dr Camilla Hoyos (Woolcock Institute) and Professor Iain McGregor. Her PhD research will examine the safety and efficacy of cannabinol (CBN) as treatment for insomnia disorder, using state-of-the-art neuroimaging technologies to examine CBN-related changes to brain activity and sleep quality.


Jack Markham

PhD candidate

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. 


Sarah Rodan

PhD student 

Recipient of the Barry and Joy Lambert PhD Scholarship

Sarah has always been particularly fascinated with neuropsychopharmacology and completed a Bachelors in Chemistry at University of Birmingham, UK and a received a Masters in Neuroimaging from King’s College London, UK.

“During my studies I realized many treatment modalities for eating disorders were lacking in efficacy and decided to pursue a PhD in such to change this!”

Sarah has joined the Lambert Initiative, under the supervision of Professor Iain McGregor and Dr Sarah Maguire (InsideOut Institute, University of Sydney), to conduct her PhD research investigating novel treatments for eating disorders. As part of her PhD, she will conduct a small clinical trial investigating whether daily CBD treatment can target the debilitating anxiety and fear towards food and weight gain that is common in children and adolescents with anorexia nervosa. We are hopeful that CBD will alleviate this anxiety and help young persons to better respond to psychological therapies,  allowing them to return to their normal weight.  


Ayshe Sahinovic

PhD student 

Recipient of the Barry and Joy Lambert PhD Scholarship

Ayshe graduated from the University of Sydney with a Bachelor of Medical Science, majoring in Biochemistry. In 2020 she completed her Honours project at the Lambert Initiative, where she investigated the effect of cannabidiol (CBD) on exercise physiology in the ‘CANRUN’ trial.

Ayshe has now embarked on a PhD in Psychology, under the supervision of Dr Danielle McCartney and Professor Iain McGregor, to further explore the effects of cannabinoids on exercise in humans.

She will use the findings from the ‘CANRUN’ study to direct the trajectory of her future research projects, which hope to investigate the effect of medicinal cannabinoids on exercise in individuals with cardiovascular and/or metabolic diseases. 


Caitlin Shepperson

PhD student 

Recipient of the Barry and Joy Lambert PhD Scholarship

Caitlin completed her Masters degree in Chemistry at the University of Oxford, graduating with first class honours as well as being awarded a Gibbs prize for the top organic chemistry performance in her year group. She completed the research component of her degree on the modifications of proteins via on-protein radicals.

For the past six months she has been working as an honorary academic with Prof Dame Margaret Brimble in her hometown of Auckland, New Zealand where she was focussing on the synthesis of natural products, with her methodology subsequently contributing to the formation of natural product Paeciloketal B. 

Caitlin will be conducting her PhD in Chemistry under the supervision of Dr Samuel Banister. Her research will focus on the development of brain-penetrant GPR55 antagonists for the treatment of Dravet Syndrome and other paediatric epilepsies.


Eric Sparkes

PhD candidate

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.


Anastasia Suraev

Anastasia Suraev

PhD candidate

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.

@AnastasiaSuraev


Cilla Zhou

PhD candidate

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.


Thomas Harman

Honours student

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.

 


Past Students

Dr Dilara Bahceci

PhD 

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.

Thesis:Preclinical validation of endocannabinoid system drug targets for the treatment of 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.


Dr Kristie Smith

PhD

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.

Kristie commenced a PhD in 2013 under the supervision of Associate Professor Jonathon Arndold examining the neurobiology of PTSD

Thesis: Genetic, molecular, and neurobiological determinants of post-traumatic stress disorder-related behaviour in mice

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

PhD candidate

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.


Cassandra Occelli Hanbury-brow

Honours student

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.

Xinyi (Sumyee) Wu

Graduate Diploma student

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.