AgriFutures Tea Tree Oil Program researcher spotlight: Associate Professor Romy Lauche

13.10.20

Associate Professor Romy Lauche is Deputy Director: Research at the National Centre for Naturopathic Medicine at Southern Cross University. With a background and qualifications in psychology, and a PhD in medical sciences Romy’s research focuses on the use, efficacy and safety of complementary medicines.

Romy has now turned her hand to Australian flora. Her new project funded by AgriFutures Tea Tree oil Program aims to map current scientific evidence for the safety, efficacy, stability and applications of tea tree oil. The project will conduct a systematic literature review, critically examine existing research studies, and summarise the findings for a variety of stakeholders and audiences. This includes tea tree growers, consumers, health and medical practitioners and researchers.

Why is this research project important?

Tea tree, Melaleuca alternifolia, is an Australian native plant, well known for its antimicrobial properties in Australia and internationally.  Over the years many new applications have been developed for tea tree oil, including for the use in everyday cosmetics and health products. At the same time research has increased substantially, adding hundreds of studies to the current literature. In order to make evidence-based decisions, most consumers and health practitioners rely on critical and comprehensive, yet accessible summaries of research. However, the last review of this evidence was published more than 10 years ago and is now significantly out of date. An updated review is urgently needed to summarise and critically examine the existing evidence from published research to inform consumers, and health care providers on the safe and effective use of tea tree oil.

Why did you get involved in the project?

Working in medical research I often felt that there was a lack of translation of research, not only from ‘bench to bedside’, but also from ‘bedside to community’. This project offered a possibility to examine all aspects of tea tree oil research, from public health (who uses tea tree oil, for what purpose, and how?), to basic or bench science (how does it work?), to applied or clinical sciences (does it work in humans, and is it safe to use it?).

This project is also one of the first we are conducting in collaboration with Southern Cross Plant Science. For us at the National Centre for Naturopathic Medicine this collaboration is a very natural one, because the use of herbal medicines and plant-based products is a cornerstone of naturopathic medicine. Being able to conduct research across various disciplines is truly inspiring, and one of the reasons why I am excited about this project.

How will this research benefit the Tea Tree industry? Are there any learnings beyond this industry?

Tea tree oil has huge potential in various health-related industries, and with time researchers are identifying more and more applications of tea tree oil. The versatility of tea tree oil is an important sale’s argument for tea tree producers. However, not many tea tree oil growers, distilleries and manufacturers will have the capabilities and resources to conduct research themselves, or to investigate the latest scientific discoveries. This project is crucial in updating the industry with the latest research developments and making the information accessible for a variety of audiences and stakeholders.

By highlighting the gaps in research and development, this project will likely stimulate further research and development in that area, and increase the interest in tea tree oil for health and medical purposes.

Most of all, and this is even more important, it will benefit the end-users. Through an up-to-date, comprehensive and accessible summary, health practitioners and consumers will gain a better understanding of the applications of tea tree oil, for effective and safe usage of related medicines and products.

What’s the best piece of professional/career advice you’ve ever been given?

A career in research can sometimes be challenging, and it might take a long time to see the rewards of your endeavours. It is important to understand what actually drives you, and what motivates you. For me, seeing how our research translates into clinical practice and changes people’s lives for the better is my main driver, that helps keep me on track.