Research at the National Centre for Naturopathic Medicine kicks off with a bang

Published 16 December 2020
Three people at a meeting looking at a computer screen Associate Professor Romy Lauche (left), Professor Jon Wardle and Dr Janet Schloss of the National Centre for Naturopathic Medicine.

It is safe to say that 2020 has been a huge year for everyone. If navigating a global pandemic wasn’t enough, the National Centre for Naturopathic Medicine officially launched with three major leadership positions.

Professor Jon Wardle joined as Foundation Director, Associate Professor Matthew Leach as Deputy Director of Education and Associate Professor Romy Lauche as Deputy Director of Research.

The team has grown throughout the year and collectively published over 50 peer-reviewed academic journal articles in 2020. The Centre gained two industry funded projects and brought over several ongoing projects. This area of research will continue to grow in the new year as the first clinical trials commence at the Centre.

Associate Professor Romy Lauche said, “We’ve had to face many challenges this year, and establishing a research stream under such conditions was not a walk in the park. Yet there have been many highlights this year, and our projects have had significant impacts on healthcare knowledge.”

“In 2021 we are looking forward to increasing our research capacity at the Centre, through further postgraduate research pathways and intensified research collaboration with other Southern Cross centres and disciplines.”

Researchers join global project to explore TCIM for COVID-19 treatment or prevention

The Centre’s leading academics were among a global team of over 40 experts who published a series of rapid reviews in response to the health challenges related to COVID-19. 

The reviews explore the contribution of traditional, complementary and integrative medicine (TCIM) to the global search for interventions for prevention, treatment and management options for COVID-19, alongside conventional treatments.

Conducted by a multi-disciplinary team of researchers and practitioners from 16 universities and five World Health Organisation regions, the reviews assess common supplements, medicinal herbs and preventative health behaviours in managing acute respiratory tract infections. 

The research leverages the knowledge and expertise of naturopaths and available evidence to provide an up-to-date synthesis of treatment opportunities that warrant further consideration, or to rule out unlikely treatment options.

The series of reviews has been published in a special edition issue of the international peer-reviewed journal Advances in Integrative Medicine dedicated to the rapid reviews, under the direction of editor-in-chief Professor Jon Wardle.  

Professor Wardle said, “the reviews highlight the valuable role that TCIM practitioners can offer to improve COVID-19 outcomes at an individual and population level”.

The project was originated by the World Naturopathic Federation and led by Professor Wardle, together with Dr Amie Steel and Dr Iva Lloyd. 

Access the special edition journal here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/journal/advances-in-integrative-medicine/vol/7/issue/4 

Driving government policy action

Professor Jon Wardle co-authored a National Policy Blueprint for self-care for health, launched in conjunction with Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt. The report calls for self-care to be a priority of the healthcare system and federal government policy in order to improve health outcomes for all Australians.

The blueprint raises important concerns around the underlying drivers of self-care and the importance of supporting the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease and cope with illness and disability to the best of their capacity.

The Centre is continuing to work with collaborators to support this initiative.

Nurturing the next generation of researchers

NCNM welcomed its first PhD candidates, Ms Sophia Gerontakos and Dr Manisha Thakkar. Their projects focus on group naturopathic intervention in women’s health and implementation of research and clinical skills development frameworks to improve clinical reasoning and evidence-based practice skills in students, respectively.  The Centre will welcome a new cohort of HDR students in 2021 with a wide array of research projects, including lab science, community-based program evaluations and herbal medicine trials.

The Centre’s team of expert research supervisors are also working with four undergraduate students as a part of the Summer Research Scholarships Program. The students’ study areas range from psychology, neurology and neuroscience, healing, Indigenous community health, naturopathy and herbal medicine.

Each of the students will be conducting a research project exploring topics such as the use of cannabis for Parkinson’s Disease, effects of leech therapy on postherpetic neuralgia, potential use of gumby gumby by cancer patients and the use of complementary medicine for children and adolescents.

Research highlights

This year Associate Professor Matthew Leach commenced wave one of a pilot randomised, controlled trial exploring meditation for women affected by domestic violence. As domestic violence is a prominent issue faced in society and can contribute considerably to physical, economic and social harm, this project aims to determine whether meditation or facilitated support groups can help lessen the burden of domestic violence on these areas. Wave two of the trial will commence early next year. ­­­

Professor Jon Wardle undertook a survey with Endometriosis Australia to understand how working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted women with endometriosis and the management of their condition. Results of this survey will be published early 2021.

Work continues in defence health with this year seeing an Australian-first study investigating complementary medicine for complex pain conditions in veterans.

Associate Professor Romy Lauche has published multiple studies focusing on women’s and maternal health. Two notable publications explore partner-delivered massage for maternal mental health, including reducing anxiety and depression.

Professor Wardle and Associate Professor Lauche was also involved in a collaborative study that analysed data from a longitudinal study on women’s health looking at the correlation between seeing a naturopath or herbalist, and lifestyle factors, such as physical activity, nutrition, smoking, drug use. The team of researched concluded that consultations with a naturopath or herbalist are associated with positive health behaviours that are protective of internationally important non-communicable diseases. This study opens further research possibilities to understand the role naturopaths play in advising patients with regards to health and non-healthy behaviours.

What’s on for 2021?

The National Centre for Naturopathic Medicine will expand its research impact and capacity in 2021, including the establishment of a clinical research stream.

Clinical Research Fellow Dr Janet Schloss has been overseeing the development of infrastructure to conduct clinical trials at the Centre and is excited about a number of projects for next year.

“It is really exciting to see everything coming together. We have a few projects commencing early next year including one looking at herbal medicines for weight loss and one investigating a non-pharmaceutical supplement that aims to help menopausal women,” said Dr Schloss.

Associate Professor Lauche said, “We have spent the year building connections and collaborative partnerships with key health partners in our region of the Northern Rivers, and that poses exciting prospects for the future of healthcare research at the Centre”.

To learn more about the National Centre for Naturopathic Medicine, visit our website: www.scu.edu.au/ncnm

Media contact: Caitlin Zillman, NCNM Marketing and Communications Manager 0424 632 177 or caitlin.zillman@scu.edu.au