Medicine - Early Career Academic Network

2021 Med ECAN best research paper announcements

We would like to congratulate the following five early career academics who were selected as winners of the 2021 Med & Health ECAN Best Research Paper Prize.

Basic Science: Dr Mike Kendig

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Paper:  Fam J, Clemens KJ, Westbrook RF, Morris MJ and Kendig MD. Chronic exposure to cafeteria-style diet in rats alters sweet taste preference and reduces motivation for, but not ‘liking’ of sucrose. Appetite, 2022 Jan 1;168:105742.

Bio: Dr Kendig is a postdoctoral researcher in the School of Medical Sciences working with Professor Margaret Morris. His work studies how diets high in sugar and fat alter aspects of cognition and behaviour, and underlying changes in the brain and composition of the gut microbiome. He is interested in how different eating styles may alter diet-induced cognitive impairment (e.g., time restricted feeding and diet cycling) and whether reverting to a healthy diet can ameliorate adverse effects. He has recently expanded to examine the impact of diet on taste sensitivity in a new collaboration with researchers in the School of Psychology.


Clinical Medicine and Science: Dr Nila Dharan (Co-winner)

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Paper:  Dharan NJ, Yeh P, Bloch M, Yeung M, Baker D, Guinto J, Roth N, Ftouni S, Ognenovska K, Smith D, Hoy JF, Woolley I, Pell C, Templeton DJ, Fraser N, Rose N, Hutchinson J, Petoumenos K, Dawson SJ, Polizzotto MN, Dawson MA, for the ARCHIVE Study Group. HIV is associated with an increased risk of age-related clonal haematopoiesis among older adults: the ARCHIVE study. Nature Medicine. 2021 Jun 7;27(6):1006-1011. doi: 10.1038/s41591-021-01357-y.

Bio: Dr Nila Dharan is an Infectious Diseases physician with a research focus on international infectious diseases and public health. She completed her medical training in Internal Medicine and specialist training in Infectious Diseases in the United States and completed a research fellowship with the Epidemic Intelligence Service at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She has clinical and public health research experience in the areas of HIV, influenza and tuberculosis. Her current research is focused on ageing and comorbidities in people with HIV. In 2021, she completed a PhD in the area of HIV comorbidities and aging, aimed at understanding the spectrum of comorbidities among persons living with HIV in Australia, and understanding aging-related genetic changes in people with HIV.


Clinical Medicine and Science: Dr David Khoury (Co-winner)

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Paper: David S. Khoury, Deborah Cromer, Arnold Reynaldi, Timothy E. Schlub, Adam K. Wheatley, Jennifer A. Juno, Kanta Subbarao, Stephen J. Kent, James A. Triccas & Miles P. Davenport. Neutralizing antibody levels are highly predictive of immune protection from symptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection (2021). Nature Medicine 27:1205–1211.

Bio: Dr David Khoury is a postdoctoral researcher at the Kirby Institute, with prior training in applied mathematics. Since 2012, David has conducted research into infectious disease drug treatment and immunity, first as a research student and currently as an Early Career Research Fellow with the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia. His background in mathematics has given him a unique perspective to dissect some of the major questions in infectious diseases. Examples of this include understanding the mechanisms of host control and drug action in malaria, uncovering the first correlate of protective immunity in SARS-CoV-2, and detecting the protective threshold for mild and severe COVID-19. David’s work is only made possible through the integration of experimental and mathematical approaches and his research is conducted in close collaboration with many domestic and international collaborators from other disciplines including parasitology, drug discovery, immunology, virology and clinical infectious diseases.


Public Health and Health Services Research:  Dr Belinda Hengel

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Paper: Hengel, B., Causer, L., Matthews, S., Smith, K., Andrewartha, K., Badman, S., Spaeth, B., Tangey, A., Cunningham, P., Saha, A., Phillips, E., Ward, J., Watts, C., King, J., Applegate, T., Shephard, M., & Guy, R. (2021). A decentralised point-of-care testing model to address inequities in the COVID-19 response. The Lancet. Infectious diseases, 21(7), e183–e190.

Bio: Dr Hengel is an early career researcher based with the Surveillance, Evaluation and Research Program at the Kirby Institute, who has been working alongside Aboriginal communities for around 15 years, primarily focused on reducing STIs and improving reproductive and pregnancy outcomes for women. She has been involved in point of care testing for infectious diseases in Aboriginal communities for the past ten years, more recently as co-coordinating the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander COVID-19 POC testing program, and supporting POC testing in Victoria and Queensland.


People’s Choice Award: Dr Shadma Fatima

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Paper: Shadma, F., et al. Integrative resource for network-based investigation of COVID-19 combinatoric drug repositioning and mechanism of action. 2021. Journal Patterns Vol. 2, Pg 1-10, 100325, Date September 10, 2021

Bio: Dr Shadma Fatima is originally from Sagar a very small town of central India. After graduating (DVM) from Indira Gandhi Agricultural University in 2004 they were selected for a prestigious National research scholarship to pursue a Master’s by Research in Molecular genetics. Dr Fatima was then awarded an International Postgraduate scholarship from Monash University to pursue their PhD with Prof. David A Jans (a pioneer in nucleocytoplamic trafficking). While doing a PhD, they  identified the role of negative regulators of nuclear import in mammalian development and spermatogenesis and remained active  as a Biochemistry Student Representative with a focus on helping fellow colleagues overcome  day to day problems during their research and improve their professional outcomes. They are currently chair of the mentoring subcommittee of the newly established Postdoctoral Association at the Ingham Institute of Applied research.


We are also deeply impressed by the high quality of impactful work that was presented by the Med ECAN members. Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Next-Generation Sequencing (NGS) Seed Funding Winner

The primary goal of UNSW Medicine ECAN is to encourage, facilitate, and support medical research by our ECAs. Therefore, we are excited to announce a new call for seed funding applications up to $3,200 over 1 year (GST exclusive) for projects focused on any area within Medicine, requiring Next-Generation Sequencing (NGS). 



Congratulations to Dr Dongli Liu for being awarded the Ramaciotti Centre Seed Grant!




Upcoming Events

Medicine-ECAN are hosting events this 2021. So Stay Tuned!

There are upcoming events to be held this year, watch out for updates! 


“What Philanthropy can do for your research?” - TBC 

Best Research Paper Competition 2021 Applications will open end of the year! 

Medicine ECAN : Team

Medicine-ECAN committee has ECAs from different departments within the Faculty of Medicine. So, engaging with us is easy. Email us at or contact us individually.

Click on our individual profiles to learn more about us. 

Ki Wook Kim, PhD

JDRF Postdoctoral Research Fellow

School of Women’s and Children’s Health, UNSW Sydney 
Behzad Hajarizadeh, PhD

Senior Lecturer

Kirby Institute, UNSW Sydney





Jane Hwang, PhD 

Research Associate

Kirby Institute, UNSW Sydney
Fatima El-Assaad, PhD

Senior Research Associate

UNSW Sydney






















Amy Bestman, PhD

Research Fellow

The George Institute for Global Health, UNSW Sydney 
Shafagh Waters, PhD

Research Fellow

Faculty of Medicine, UNSW Sydney









Nunki Hassan, PhD

Research Officer

School of Women’s and Children’s Health, UNSW Sydney 
Charles Foster, PhD

Prince of Wales Hospital, UNSW Sydney
























Chamini Perera, PhD

Ingham Institute, South Western Clinical School 
Carolina Sandler, PhD

Kirby Institute, UNSW Sydney















Benjamin Daniels, PhD

Centre for Big Data Research in Health (CBDRH), UNSW Sydney


Rachael Cvejic, PhD

School of Psychiatry, UNSW Sydney 


















Past Events

This 2021, ECAN Medicine & Health held successful webinars to tackle the challenges of Grant writing. 


"De-coding NHMRC funding schemes" Webinar -  Wednesday 25th August, 12.00 pm – 1.00 pm 

Our expert, Jacqueline Brothier (Research Development Manager, Research Strategy Office, UNSW) will discuss topics to improve your understanding on NHMRC funding schemes, offer strategies for a targeted approach to grant submissions, and provide general grantsmanship tips for developing NHMRC applications for EMCRs.


"Preparing for Investigator Grants" Webinar - Thursday 27th May, 2.00 pm – 3.00 pm 

This webinar is for ECAN members planning to apply for the NHMRC Investigator Grant scheme. Presentations from Ms Katherine Waldron (Research Development Manager, Research Strategy Office, UNSW) and Dr Behzad Hajarizadeh (Senior Lecturer, Kirby Institute and Investigator Grant reviewer) will be followed by a Q and A session. The webinar will discuss topics including identifying top 5 publications, leadership opportunities for EMCRs and support for EMCRs.  



In 2020 ECAN hosted two events to help UNSW Early Career Researchers to navigate the stressful & uncertain times we have and continue to face.


1. Navigate Your Career Pathway  

Making the transition from a career in academia to one in another sector may not be as elusive or challenging as one might think. Academics working in Science and Medicine have an amazing amount of transferable skills valued by a myriad of industries. The key is being able to articulate your true value in a way that potential employers outside of academia can understand (using their language). In this webinar, we will hear from two former academics currently leading successful careers beyond academia and an experienced recruiter within the Life Sciences Industry. There will be ample time (30 min Q&A) for questions and an open discussion with the speakers, so we encourage everyone interested in a career beyond academia to join.

Speakers include:

Dr Erica Crome, National Mental Health Commission

Dr Auda Eltahla, Microsoft Asia

Ms Alice Kedie, Hays Life Sciences & Recruitment


2. Navigate Your University in COVID times


2019 Events

The Faculty of Science and Medicine ECAN teamed up for the first time and brought to you a series of 3 grant application workshops!

Workshop 1: NHMRC Investigator Grant workshop

  • Date: 3rd October 2019
  • Speakers: Dr Michelle Bonello, Dr Ira Devenson, Dr Qian Du and Dr Lisa Nivison-Smith
  • Over 70 attendees in person and on Live Stream!

Workshop 2: Beyond the NHMRC and ARC

  • Date: 17th October 2019

Workshop 3: How to find my metrics?

  • Date: 30th October 2019
  • Speakers: Caroline Regan and outreach librarians
Best Research Paper Competition Hall Of Fame

We’re delighted to announce the winners of the inaugural ECAN Medicine Best Research Paper Competition.

Many congratulations to the winners and thank you to everyone who entered. The quality of submissions was extremely high and we look forward to running the competition again in 2021!

 2020 Med ECAN Best Research Paper Winners!

We are also deeply impressed by the high quality of impactful work that was presented by the Med ECAN members. 


A huge congratulations to the following:

Basic Science: Dr Valentina Rodriguez Paris

Paper:  Defining the impact of dietary macronutrient balance on PCOS traits (2020).Nature Communications11(1), 5262.

Bio: Dr. Valentina Rodriguez Paris is a reproductive biologist specialising in female reproduction. She conducts basic discovery research on potential new treatments for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). Dr. Rodriguez Paris   was awarded her PhD July 2020 from UNSW Sydney and is currently a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Ovarian and Oocyte Biology Research Unit at UNSW Sydney. Dr. Rodriguez Paris research focuses on the development of novel non-invasive treatments for PCOS through dietary interventions. She is also interested in the role of androgens in    the development of PCOS. Dr. Rodriguez Paris   has been the recipient of multiple national and international awards including the Presidential Poster Award (ENDO, USA), the Women’s Wellbeing Symposium Best Presentation (NZ), the Open Senior Tow Award (AU), Best of the Best E-poster (Endocrine Society of Australia) and Best poster presentation at the Cross-Faculty Biomedical Symposium UNSW (AU). 


Clinical Research: Dr Behzad Hajarizadeh