Changing Times

Dr. Shawn Bender ’01 didn’t set out with the intention of doing research, but soon into his stint as a pre-med major he found that he had a natural passion for delving into the mechanics of life.

“There was kind of this dread among the biology majors about taking physiology,” said Bender. “I remember taking that class and being really excited about it. It came more naturally to me than I thought it would.”

Bender fondly recalled his time at Lebanon Valley College. Between being involved in student government, the soccer team, and multiple honors societies, his pursuits certainly ensured that he kept busy. As a class officer, he was one of several individuals responsible for the creation of Dutchmen Day, an annual staple for the College. Unfortunately, he graduated before he was able to see the fruits of his labor, though he expressed a sense of pride to be able to contribute to his school.

From Dutchman to doctor, Bender found himself in Missouri working two jobs after earning his Ph.D. in biological sciences from Ohio University; one at the Harry S. Truman Memorial Veteran’s Hospital and the other at the University of Missouri. Both institutions enabled him to use the passion for research that he had first gained at LVC, but at the University of Missouri, he tackled an entirely different challenge: teaching.

However, for somebody as motivated as himself, Bender found no issue in spending time working with graduate students.

“You go into a different level of discussion with them than you do with undergraduates,” commented Bender. “I find it very satisfying.”

Conducting research in two places may seem a daunting task, but the amount of overlap between Bender’s work allows him to balance his responsibilities to both facilities. Most of his research focuses on cardiovascular health, particularly subjects such as blood flow and obesity. And sometimes, working as a professor offers Bender unexpected inspiration.

“Your students ask these crazy questions out of pure curiosity, so I think at the end of the day, being actively involved in teaching makes you a better researcher,” said Bender.

Recently, Bender and his team have dedicated much of their time to investigating the function of a certain receptor. Their findings surprised them; the receptor, which had previously only thought to play a role in kidney blood pressure, actually affects individual blood vessels. With this knowledge in hand, they have worked to debunk outdated claims regarding the receptor and are working on its applications in the treatment of diabetes.

For Bender, investigating the cause and effect relationships inherent in body functions is the most exciting part of his research.

“It’s been fun to be a part of a major shift in how we think about this receptor,” Bender said.

Bender has been a force for change, starting in his college years. Whether campaigning for days off from school or trying to change the world of medicine, he has demonstrated continuous innovation in everything he does. For his work, he received an Alumni Citation during the annual Alumni Awards held during Homecoming in October. 

No matter where his research leads him next, it’s guaranteed that he will put all of his effort into making sure that a positive change comes out of it.