Lance Cpl. Benjamin Shaw: From Rocket Launchers to Alzheimer's Research

For Lance Cpl. Benjamin Shaw, enlisting in the military was almost inevitable. Dedication to serving the country ran in his family.

Something else was also a significant part of his family history: autoimmune disorders. More specifically, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis, a disease that affects the central nervous system. Also, his wife has autoimmune hepatitis. Seeing the effects of these disorders firsthand is what prompted Lance Cpl. Shaw to also seek training in science, hoping to someday utilize his passion for helping others through research.

Now, he’s a veteran who served three years in the Marine Corps and a current PhD candidate with the University of Kentucky College of Medicine Department of Physiology.

In the military, Lance Cpl. Shaw was an infantry explosives specialist, which involved using rocket launchers for antitank operations and making breaching charges using C4. During his time in the military, he also gathered knowledge in sciences, undergoing training in basic physiology and pharmacology.

After he left the Marines in 2013, he finished his undergraduate and secondary education at Eastern Kentucky University.

“I learned more about biomedical research and how that which I learned in lecture can apply to a research lab, then translate to real-world impacts on disease treatments,” he said.

He is currently in his fourth year of the UK College of Medicine’s PhD program in physiology, studying the effect genetic differences have on immune cell function related to Alzheimer’s disease risk. Much of his day is spent in a research laboratory, using cell culture models and human samples from the Alzheimer’s Disease Core to understand the mechanisms.

He works closely with Steven Estus, PhD, professor of physiology who works in the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging. Dr. Estus’s laboratory focuses on Alzheimer’s research, seeking to understand the mechanisms underlying the disease and utilizing the findings to discover new means of disease prevention and treatment.

“My favorite part of biomedical education here at UK is the interactions between different disciplines,” Lance Cpl. Shaw said. “I’ve worked on exciting projects I never thought would interest me. The opportunities for collaborations afforded by the UK College of Medicine are incredible.”

His goal after graduating is to run his own laboratory and research the autoimmune disorders that have impacted his family.