Neuroscientist and hemophilia expert Stefan Tiefenbacher ‘01PhD has benefitted greatly from his training in the Neuroscience and Behavior Program at UMass Amherst. From performing primate physiology and bioanalysis, to studying psychiatry, he has pursued many innovative ventures on the cutting-edge of research.
Currently, Tiefenbacher is Vice President at Laboratory Corporation of America and Technical Director of Enterprise Specialty Services. Starting at one of the small speciality labs of LabCorp, Colorado Coagulation, he helped grow it into one of the premiere providers of clinical research and testing of hemostasis related products. Today, through the overseeing of assay validation and recommendation, oversight of state and federal regulations, troubleshooting in the lab, and client interaction, Tiefenbacher advises pharmaceutical companies who are developing new drugs for medical use.
While working on his doctorate with UMass Amherst Professors Melinda Novak and Jerrold Meyer, Tiefenbacher was exposed to multiple research groups and collaborations. Novak and Meyer instilled great qualities in Stefan’s scientific work, including a high-level of critical thinking and ethical standards. He learned that when an element of his project was “just good enough,” he was creating a scenario for inconsistent data, something that can be detrimental to future analysis. He became very exacting in his work, also coming to understand that failures in science were inevitable. When an experiment proved to be unhelpful, often by accepting his failure, the steps he needed to move forward were revealed.
Tiefenbacher’s dissertation concentrated on the pathophysiology of self-injurious behavior (SIB) in a species of socially reared nonhuman primates. This work eventually took him to the New England Regional Primate Research Center (NERPRC) at Harvard Medical School where, with the support of a grant from the National Institute of Health (NIH), he designed assays for examining the HPA axis (our brain’s central stress response system) and the neurotransmitters and stress hormones at work there. This study was aimed at understanding and mitigating trauma for research animals in order to improve their situations. The training and exposure at NERPRC helped him to develop his skills in scientific writing, public speaking, and how to effectively collaborate with others. These attributes have shown themselves to be invaluable to him in his career.
After graduation, Stefan stayed on at NERPRC as a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow studying psychiatry and pharmacology alongside Dr. Roger Spealman, specifically examining cocaine self-administration models. His dissertation work was a part of several new studies being conducted at the center on self-injury in adolescence. He also had the opportunity to interact with researchers studying the pathophysiology of conditions like Parkinson’s disease and HIV.
“I always enjoyed doing multiple things and looking at disease states from multiple angles, not just focusing on one technology so to speak,” says Tiefenbacher.
After his fellowship, he relocated to Colorado, beginning a new stage of his career. For a year he worked at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center studying alcohol abuse models in nonhuman primates. Then, in a slight departure from his work in neuroscience, an opportunity came up at a small specialty laboratory, Colorado Coagulation, focusing exclusively on special coagulation, thrombosis, and hemostasis testing. He soon became manager of the clinical trial department, acting as the Technical Director of Coagulation.
“When I switched from self-injury…making a total 180 [change] and going into coagulation, all I said to myself is, it’s science…it doesn't matter…those tools I learned in graduate school and then as a postdoc, I can apply them in any setting that I need to,“ recalls Tiefenbacher.
Colorado Coagulation has now grown to be an internationally recognized leader and worldwide provider of hemostasis testing, with over 150 different enzymatic and molecular assays. Between 50-60% of all hemophilia drugs and treatments that have been developed in the world have gone through this lab. They are experts in developing drug therapies for hemophilia A and B, a rare bleeding disorder in which blood cannot clot normally at the site of a wound or injury. They also specialize in new advances in treatment such as gene therapy and non-factor replacement therapy for hemophilia.
For the past 15 years Tiefenbacher, as Vice President of LabCorp and Technical Director of Coagulation for subsidiary Esoterix, has assisted companies in the drug development stage. He helps assure they have chosen the correct assays, ones that are validated to the expectations of regulators in Europe, the US, and Japan. Many of Tiefenbacher’s clients have been with him for years. He prides himself on being transparent, keeping open communication between all parties involved in a project.
Stefan explains, “Just within the past two months I changed roles again within my company and now represent over 12 different labs spanning a wide variety of disease corridors and therapeutic areas, ranging from cancer, virology, endocrine, to special coagulation… I am asked to be more of a generalist again, no longer focused on what I’ve been doing for the past 15 years at my company.”
He also recounts, “I have really enjoyed self-injury research; I’ve really felt like I’ve immersed myself in that with all the associated components…being broad but still staying in one topic. I feel I have done the same again in hemophilia now, I’ve worked over the years, established myself as an expert in that field, and now I’m switching again. I’m not afraid to switch and explore new things.”
Tiefenbacher is always up for the next challenge; learning new areas of science and developing valued relationships with his clients and research team. He has found that by doing your best work and going above and beyond, you will eventually be recognized for your endeavors.