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Academic leadership team

Meet the people who lead our cutting-edge research

Combining decades of research experience, our team of dedicated professors and doctors are well-equipped to lead the way in discovering the therapeutic potential of medicinal cannabis.


Iain McGregor

Professor Iain McGregor

Academic Director

Iain McGregor is the Academic Director of the Lambert Initiative and an NHMRC Principal Research Fellow. He is responsible for academic and organisational leadership, strategic direction, governance and reporting, and the development and achievement of the preclinical and clinical research strategies. Iain oversees a team of more than 25 staff and students, including the Associate Directors, and reports to the Lambert Initiative Internal Management Group (IMG). Renowned in the field of medicinal cannabis research, Iain leads strategic relations, advocacy and education.

In addition to medicinal cannabis, Iain’s research spans medicinal chemistry, the use of cellular assays and preclinical animal models of disease, and clinical trials in humans. His major areas of research interest include:

  • the beneficial effects of oxytocin on social behaviour
  • the development of novel treatments for addiction-related and mental health problems
  • analysis of the increasing use of prescription psychotropic drugs in Australia and other countries
  • pharmaco-epidemiology
  • the study of olfaction and pheromones.

Iain is a well-known figure in the field of medicinal cannabis research and has published more than 50 papers on cannabinoids, his first one more than 20 years ago. He has more than 200 career publications and an h-index of 57.


Jonathon Arnold

Associate Professor Jonathon Arnold

Associate Director, Preclinical Research

Jonathon Arnold is the Associate Director of Preclinical Research, and has a primary focus on strategic direction and execution of the Lambert Initiative’s preclinical research program. He also works closely with the clinical research team to assist in the development and translation of research findings. Jonathon leads various Lambert Initiative projects which examine the efficacy of cannabinoids and full-spectrum cannabis extracts in preclinical models of disease including childhood epilepsy, cancer and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). He is also exploring the role of the endogenous cannabinoid system in various diseases.

Jonathon brings considerable expertise in cannabis research and cannabinoid pharmacology to the academic leadership team. Jonathon has been Head of the Cannabinoid Research Group in the Sydney Medical School since 2002 and has published over 60 research papers that have received more than 2000 citations. His first major discovery was that plant cannabinoids reverse resistance to anticancer drugs. He has also isolated several genes that modulate the effects of cannabinoids on the brain and contributed to Australia’s first cannabis potency study, showing that Australian street cannabis is among the most potent in the world. More recently he has published research on interplay between CBD and THC which may contribute to 'the entourage effect'.

In addition, Jonathon contributes to community outreach and education. He has incorporated cannabis research into the curriculum of Science and Medicine degrees at the University of Sydney. He has also supervised eight PhD students whose theses addressed cannabis research.


Michael Bowen

Dr Michael Bowen

Associate Director, Scientific Operations

Michael Bowen's research focuses on applying cutting-edge cellular and preclinical research techniques to central nervous system drug discovery and development. He joined in 2016 as the Research Coordinator and in 2017 took up the role of Associate Director of Scientific Operations. Michael works with the University and other key stakeholders to secure and maintain the resources, facilities and research support required to conduct the bold, multidisciplinary research program.

Michael helps to direct the cellular and preclinical research programs. Major projects he is heavily involved in include:

  • a preclinical project examining the potential efficacy and safety of specific phytocannabinoids and broad spectrum extracts for the treatment of anxiety and social disorders
  • a series of projects using cellular models to help to predict which phytocannabinoids and broad spectrum extracts will work best for patients with severe treatment-resistant epilepsies.

Michael’s expertise has been recognised through considerable competitive research funding, commercial partnerships, regular media coverage, and numerous prestigious awards, including:

  • the inaugural NSW Premier’s Prize for Early Career Researcher of the Year (2015)
  • the 2016 Eureka Prize for Outstanding Early Career Researcher
  • the 2016 International Behavioral Neuroscience Society Early Career Award.

Samuel Banister

Dr Samuel Banister

Team Leader in Medical Chemistry

Dr Samuel Banister is Team Leader in Medicinal Chemistry with The Lambert Initiative for Cannabinoid Therapeutics, where his team is responsible for all aspects of preclinical cannabinoid chemistry. The Medicinal Chemistry team utilises cannabinoids and related natural products for the development of clinical candidates to treat neurological disorders including epilepsy, neuropathic pain, and substance abuse.

Dr Banister brings more than 10 years of small molecule drug development experience to the Lambert Initiative. He joined the Lambert Initiative in 2018 from Stanford University where he worked with the Medicinal Chemistry Knowledge Center at ChEM-H to develop a new treatment for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis that was licensed for clinical translation.

His expertise in cannabinoid science is internationally recognised, and his work been featured in newspapers including The New York Times and The Sydney Morning Herald. Dr Banister regularly consults to government agencies in Australia, New Zealand, and the USA on cannabinoid science, and sits on the editorial advisory board of Drug Testing and Analysis.

Research projects currently underway within the Lambert Initiative Medicinal Chemistry team, including;

  • Development of cannabinoids that modulate GABA-A receptors, GPR55 receptors, and other targets for the treatment of epilepsy
  • Profiling the chemistry, pharmacology, and clinical toxicology of new synthetic cannabinoids and their metabolites
  • Design of radiotracers targeting cannabinoid receptors for imaging inflammation in the brain using positron emission tomography (PET)

 


Dr Melissa Benson

Team Leader (Clinical Research) and Research Fellow

Dr Melissa Benson graduated with a Bachelor of Biotechnology (Honours in Drug, Design and Development) at the University of Queensland. Following this, she completed her PhD in Neuropharmacology also at the University of Queensland with a focus on the development of novel antiepileptic drug pathways and the role played by neuroinflammation in epilepsy disease development. She completed further postgraduate studies in Business related to drug development and intellectual property commercialisation.

Melissa then moved to NYC and undertook a postdoctoral fellowship at New York Medical College, focusing on disease mechanisms underlying West Syndrome, a catastrophic infantile epilepsy. Following her return to Australia, she worked in clinical trials management at a large private practice in eastern Sydney, focusing on day-to-day management and setup of clinical studies, primarily in the fields of HIV, hepatitis and cervical cancer.

Melissa joined the Lambert Initiative in July 2018 and became the Team Leader of the Clinical Research Team, where she continues to contribute to ongoing preclinical epilepsy research. However, her key focus is project management of cannabinoid-based clinical trials and related projects being undertaken by the Lambert Initiative, in collaboration with specialist clinicians and researchers locally and abroad.