Western atop world in Undergraduate Awards

Special to Western News

Tiffany Ni, BMSc’18, was recently named a Global Winner in the Medical Sciences category of The 2018 Undergraduate Awards for her thesis research which examined how an antioxidant could protect against drug-induced hearing loss. In total, 23 Western students had their papers ranked as highly commended, in the 2018 Undergraduate Awards competition.

A passion for translating research to patient care has led Tiffany Ni, BMSc’18, to the top of the world. Ni was recently named a Global Winner in the Medical Sciences category of The 2018 Undergraduate Awards for her thesis research which examined how an antioxidant could protect against drug-induced hearing loss.

“Certain types of cancer drugs and other treatments are selected for their efficacy but some drugs can cause ototoxicity – or drug-induced hearing loss in as much as 70-100 per cent of patients,” Ni said. “This project demonstrated that the novel antioxidant, Catalase-SKL, may be able to offer protection to the sensory cells of the inner ear.”

Ni was inspired to pursue science by watching her father, once a physician in China, then an ultrasound sonographer after moving to Canada.

“Growing up, I watched his curiosity for how things worked and his interest in science,” she said.

Her own curiosity led her to pursue science at Western and specialize in Physiology for her Bachelor of Medical Science degree.

“My undergraduate degree at Western really allowed me to be exposed to a lot of researchers who guided me in my career,” said Ni, who pursued a summer research grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) in third year, studying in a pathology lab at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry. “The NSERC research project really taught me to think critically and allowed me to appreciate the amazing effort that goes into every single scientific discovery.”

Ni is now pursuing her dream of becoming a clinician-scientist as a masters student in Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology at the University of Toronto.

“I am definitely planning to pursue medical school in future, and with training in my master’s thesis, it will hopefully allow me to be able to translate research done in the lab to patients at the bedside,” she said.

The Undergraduate Awards is a global competition that recognizes the world’s brightest undergraduate students through an anonymous international evaluation of their coursework. In 2018, the program received 4,887 submissions from 333 universities in 46 countries around the world.

Western ranked first in North America for highly commended papers, or top 10 per cent in their disciplines, and third in the world behind only Trinity College Dublin and Nanyang Technological University.

Since 2014, seven Western students have been selected as Global Winners, including three from the Bachelor of Medical Sciences program. Eight students from the BMSc program, including Ni, were highly commended this year.

“All of our students are outstanding and throughout their careers in our BMSc modules, they have the opportunity to undertake research projects, submit thesis research projects and essays within their courses that are very impressive,” said Candace Gibson, Associate Dean of Basic Medical Sciences Undergraduate Education (BMSUE) at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry.

“It is a great credit to our programs that so many of our students are acknowledged in this competition. They are competing with students from all over the world – China, Australia, Scotland, Ireland, the UK and United States – from world-class institutions – Yale, Princeton, Oxford, Edinburgh – and they are winning.”

Three Western students had more than one paper ranked as highly commended, including Levi Hord from the Faculty of Arts & Humanities, who was highly commended in 2017 and went on to receive a Rhodes Scholarship.

Being selected as a Global Winner was a shock, Ni said, who almost didn’t answer the call from overseas. “I’m incredibly grateful to my supervisor, Dr. Brian Allman, and the great team of mentors around my thesis project – Drs. Paul Walton, Sara Hayes and John Kelly. They made a daunting task much easier for me.”

“During her time in the lab, Tiffany accomplished so much more than simply generating high-quality data – her work helped to launch an exciting research program for me and my colleagues, Drs. Walton and Hayes,” Anatomy & Cell Biology professor Brian Allman explained. “I credit Tiffany’s success in her undergraduate thesis project to her scientific curiosity, preparedness and keen attention to detail. Coupled with her humility and ability to overcome unexpected research challenges, these attributes will no doubt help Tiffany to achieve her goal of becoming a future clinician-scientist.”

In total, 23 Western students had their papers ranked as highly commended, in the 2018 Undergraduate Awards competition. These students, along with Ni, are invited to attend the Global Summit in Dublin, Ireland in November.

They included:

  • Floranda Agroam (King’s University College);
  • Victoria Boerner (Music);
  • John Chmiel (Schulich Medicine & Dentistry);
  • Layne Clarke (Social Science);
  • Joshua Cohen (Health Sciences);
  • Julian Donovan (Social Science);
  • Mahdieh Varvani Farahani (Social Science);
  • Daamoon Ghahari* (Schulich Medicine & Dentistry);
  • Chloee Godin-Jacques (King’s University College);
  • Levi Hord* (Arts & Humanities);
  • Meaghan Irons (Social Science);
  • Fariha Jamani (Health Sciences);
  • Justin Kritzinger (Schulich Medicine & Dentistry);
  • Matthew Laird (Schulich Medicine & Dentistry);
  • Domonic McDonald (King’s University College);
  • Tiffany Ni (Schulich Medicine & Dentistry);
  • Onyedikachi Ojiakor (Schulich Medicine & Dentistry);
  • Rumana Rafiq (Schulich Medicine & Dentistry);
  • Shenelle Rodrigo (Schulich Medicine & Dentistry);
  • John Sizeland (Social Science);
  • Jiaying Kerin Yao (Ivey Business School);
  • Wyatt Merkley* (King’s University College); and
  • Alex Prong (Information & Media Studies).

*Students who had more than one paper ranked as highly commended.