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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.

Dilara Bahceci

PhD candidate

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 therapeutics. Her research focuses on the preclinical development of cannabinoids as a treatment for Dravet syndrome. Her research aims to develop effective and safe cannabinoid therapies that not only protect against seizures and increase lifespan, but also help ameliorate the developmental delays observed in childhood epilepsy patients. Dilara is testing full-spectrum extracts in her studies and examining the entourage effect. She is also examining whether Dravet syndrome occurs due to an endocannabinoid system deficiency. Dilara is also passionate about effective science comminication and ensuring the community has access to reliable and engaging information.

Joel Raymond   

PhD Candidate

Joel is a PhD student under the supervision of Dr Michael Bowen. Joel’s research is investigating the role of the endogenous oxytocin system during early development and the respective long-term neurobiological and behavioural consequences of early life events in adulthood using preclinical models. The preclinical behavioural models Joel is developing and using will facilitate screening of various phytocannabinoids in a vast array of behaviours such as substance addiction, social dysfunction, sleep, pain and feeding. In the future, this preclinical research may provide an exciting new potential therapeutic application for these phytocannabinoids.

Kristie Smith

PhD candidate

Kristie Smith is a PhD student at the University of Sydney. She 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 (BMC) in 2012. Kristie commenced a PhD in 2013 examining the neurobiology of PTSD. She discovered that trauma activates microglia, the brain’s immune cells, which might contribute to the pathophysiology of PTSD via increased neuro-inflammation. She is examining whether cannabinoids and full-spectrum cannabis extracts dampen neuro-inflammation and reduce PTSD symptoms.

Mia Langguth

PhD candidate

Mia Langguth is a PhD student at the University of Sydney. In 2016, she graduated with a Bachelor of Science (Neuroscience) with First Class Honour from the University of Queensland. Before commencing her PhD, Mia worked as a Research Assistant at the Queensland Brain Institute before completing a two-month internship at the University of Cambridge in the Department of Experimental Psychology. In October 2018, she joined the Lambert Initiative for Cannabinoid Therapeutics to undertake a PhD under the supervision of Dr Michael Bowen. Her research focuses on examining the potential efficacy of phytocannabinoids for the treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and commonly associated secondary neuropsychological disorders including anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and epilepsy. Her research aims to help develop effective and safe cannabinoid therapies for those on the spectrum with particular focus on novel treatment options for adults on the spectrum who experience co-morbid mental health disorders.

Thomas Arkell

PhD candidate

Thomas Arkell has been with the Initiative since our inception, and is now working toward a PhD looking at the effects of cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) on driving performance and cognition. Thomas’ background is in psychology and philosophy, and he is particularly interested in the psychoactive effects of THC.

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.

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.

Rhianne Scicluna

PhD candidate

Rhianne is a PhD student in Dr Michael Bowen’s team working on the development of cannabinoid-based therapeutics for opioid use disorder. Before beginning her candidature in October 2019, she completed a Bachelor of Psychology (Honours) at the University of Sydney in 2018 and worked as a Research Assistant at the University of Sydney in 2019. Rhianne’s research focuses on using preclinical models of opioid addiction to explore the efficacy of phytocannabinoids for treating opioid use disorder and to understand how cannabinoids act upon neural and pharmacological pathways involved in opioid abuse to exert their therapeutically relevant effects.

Ayshe Sahinovic

Honours student

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 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.