Dr Janet Schloss is an accomplished researcher who has dedicated the past decade to building the evidence-base for naturopathy, nutrition and integrative and complementary medicine, mostly through conducting clinical trials.
Janet has received industry recognised researcher awards and has a number of ground-breaking studies in her suite of publications in clinical naturopathy, cancer and auto-immune diseases – some of which have gained wide-spread national media attention.
We spoke to Janet about her role as Clinical Trials Fellow at the National Centre for Naturopathic Medicine, and about her contribution to the naturopathic field since she first found her passion for naturopathy over 20 years ago.
Q: What inspired you to follow a career in naturopathic medicine?
I had a career in sports management and it just wasn’t giving me any kind of fulfillment, so I decided to study nutrition. I then received a scholarship to study naturopathy and as soon as I started, I just loved it.
While I was studying naturopathy, my aunty was diagnosed with bowel cancer. She sought alternative treatment from a so-called ‘practitioner’ with no qualifications and that was really dangerous. I was immediately intrigued to learn more about the evidence base that supports natural medicine and to practice what scientifically works.
Q: What has your experience been like as a researcher?
Studying my PhD and conducting a full medical clinical trial on my own was such a great learning experience for me – good and bad. It gave me a really solid understanding of what is needed to make a difference.
I started working with oncologists and exploring nutrition and complementary medicine treatments that seemed to help with symptoms of cancer treatments. That’s when I found my passion and the medicinal cannabis and glioblastoma (brain tumour) trial idea came up. I was exploring research that I wanted to do, in areas that I could see needed attention and I was very determined to make it happen.
Q: Can you tell me a bit more about your work with medicinal cannabis and glioblastoma and how it came about?
I had been looking into the current body of research around medicinal cannabis and brain tumours and I saw a gap. I went to Sydney for some presentations and during that trip we ended up securing a neurosurgeon and the facility to conduct the trial at, and then I found a company that would support it. It was a hard process, but we got there in the end.
The first phase of the trial was looking at tolerance levels, and now we are going on to the second stage to look at efficacy. We are testing a varied dose of medicinal cannabis and looking at the tumour response in patients both on traditional treatment and not on treatment.
When the study was announced in 2018 we received a lot of public and media interest and I was interviewed on the Today Show.
Q: So far what has been your most rewarding study?
I’d have to say the trial of medicinal cannabis in glioblastoma – I get emails from patients saying, ‘my MRIs are stable’ and that’s just with medicinal cannabis and diet and lifestyle management. It is incredible to see.
A close second would be my study in chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN) and B-vitamins. There is no treatment or preventative for this side effect (neuropathy is weakness, numbness and pain from nerve damage). We looked at the use of B-vitamins to help prevent it happening, and the results showed that B12 was statistically significant for reducing the onset and severity of CIPN.
I saw first-hand the personal impacts of this study. I actually did a case study on one patient whose results were remarkable. She was identified as B12 deficient and was in the placebo group, so we withdrew her. Her oncologist gave her a B12 injection and we prescribed her supplements for two months. Within a week her neuropathy went from her elbow down to her hand and from her hip down to her ankle. After two months she only had neuropathy on the tips of her fingers and toes and could function properly again. Had we not done the trial, she would have just been treated for severe peripheral neuropathy and instead we treated her deficiency as well as the peripheral neuropathy and had a phenomenal outcome.
It is very rewarding to see that impact of my research. To know we are helping to extend these people’s lives, not just improve their quality of life is incredible.
Q: What aspect about research excites you the most?
It’s about the people themselves and how we can help make a difference to the individual. Everyone is different, so even if it works for a percentage of people, I’ve made a difference and that’s the best feeling.
Q: What are your future goals?
A: I’m really excited to be able to expand the scope of clinical trials at the National Centre for Naturopathic Medicine. There are very few research centres in Australia that focus on complementary medicine that have the infrastructure and team behind them to carry out the scope of clinical trials we are doing. We are in a really valuable position to grow and build the capacity of clinical trials research.
I hope I can continue to pursue medicinal cannabis research and branching into different areas, as well as exploring different natural medicines and how they impact people.
Media contact: Caitlin Wagner Zillman, Marketing and Communications Manager at the National Centre for Naturopathic Medicine 0424 632 177 or firstname.lastname@example.org