Tiffany Cole (centre) with her mother Benedicte Esterman (L) and Linda Hurley (R), patron of the National Council of Women of NSW. Image credit: Volunteer Photography
01 February 2016
The Garvan Institute of Medical Research congratulates Tiffany Cole, a PhD student in the Institute’s Neuroscience Division, who has been awarded a prestigious Australia Day award by the National Council of Women of NSW. The award was conferred at a luncheon event at NSW Parliament House on Thursday 28 January.
The Australia Day awards recognise young women of promise who have achieved highly in their chosen area of study, despite being disadvantaged by illness or hardship. For Tiffany, the award reflects her considerable successes in both undergraduate and postgraduate study, despite a serious and debilitating accident late in her Honours year.
In early 2012, Tiffany was on the verge of completing her BSc(Hons) at the University of Western Sydney, having previously won the University’s Dean’s Medal at the end of her third year. Eight weeks before her Honours thesis was due, she was kicked in the throat by a racehorse. Her neck was broken in several places and she spent a week in a coma.
In severe pain and heavily medicated, Tiffany nonetheless completed her Honours thesis from her hospital bed. She went on to receive the University Medal, an acknowledgement of excellence in her undergraduate studies and Honours results.
Following her accident, Tiffany developed severe chronic neuropathic pain (tactile allodynia) in her right arm. As she says, “I couldn’t handle even light pressure on my right arm for about a year. I literally had to cut the right sleeve off all my clothes!
“And, because I’m just one of those curious people, I found myself becoming very interested in chronic neuropathic pain from a research perspective. I was amazed to discover how little is actually understood about how chronic pain develops, and how ineffective the current treatment options are.”
Tiffany decided to undertake research into how neuropathic pain develops. In 2014, she joined the laboratory of Dr Greg Neely in Garvan’s Neuroscience Division, first as a research assistant and then as a PhD student.
So far, Tiffany’s PhD research at Garvan has focused on developing fruit fly models of neuropathic pain. Less than two years into her PhD, she is the co-first author (with Vanja Nagy) of a research paper in the journal Cell Cycle, and a second paper is currently in preparation.
Dr Neely says, “Tiffany is a remarkable young woman. I have no doubt that she would be successful in whatever she chose to do – so I’m glad that she has chosen medical research.
“She has a strongly positive attitude, but she is also well aware of the realities and challenges of her various projects – and that is a trait that can be extremely advantageous in a research career.”
Tiffany’s positivity is evident in other areas of her life too. A keen bodybuilder, Tiffany was told after her accident that she might never walk again, and that she would certainly never lift weights. However, she defied expectations by going on to win an Australian bodybuilding title in 2013, less than two years after the accident.
In the long term, Tiffany hopes to undertake research into stem cells, and particularly how they develop into sensory nerve cells. She also has a particular interest in the emerging science of how specific cell types can be “de-differentiated” to form stem cells, and then manipulated at a molecular level to derive any number of different cell and tissue types.
Tiffany says, “I am extremely honoured to receive this award from the National Council of Women of NSW. It means a lot to receive recognition for doing something I believe in, and I look forward to improving outcomes for neuropathic pain patients in the future.”
Tiffany, we congratulate you on your award and your successes so far – and we will follow your research career with great interest!