In high school Aaron Sandoval became obsessed with Deadpool, Marvel’s comic character who has accelerated healing and regenerative powers.
Sandoval has turned in his superhero cape for a lab coat in medicine by working with reparative methods for the human body. And now, he’s received a national award that will allow him to do that.
Sandoval, a 21-year-old UF biology senior, was selected for the Marshall Scholarship, which gives students in the U.S. a chance to pursue their graduate studies in the United Kingdom, all expenses paid. He is the second Marshall scholar in UF’s history, following Steven Robinette in 2009.
Sandoval was one of 46 students chosen out of over 1,000 applicants across the U.S.
The Marshall Scholarship Program was created in 1953 to thank the U.S. for helping the U.K. after World War II under the Marshall Plan, which was the U.S.’s way of helping European economies after the devastation of the war, according to the program’s website.
“It still hasn’t really sunk in yet,” Sandoval said. “I’m happy to have won it.”
Sandoval said in his two years at the University of Cambridge and King’s College London he’ll study biochemistry and focus on the transfer of stem cells from the lab to the patients so they can understand what cells are being used to help them.
Sandoval has collaborated with UF faculty members like Malcolm Maden, a professor in UF’s Cancer and Genetics Research Institute. Sandoval and Maden worked in a lab with an African spiny mouse, to figure out how stem cells repair parts of the human body like skin tissue.
In 2012, Maden and his research team discovered the African spiny mouse’s ability to regenerate skin scar free. Maden wrote one of Sandoval’s letters of recommendation for his application for the scholarship.
Sandoval said if the mouse’s regeneration of skin cells could be translated to humans, then a human’s wounds could completely heal rather than scar.
Sandoval didn’t have the opportunity to do research in high school and wanted to learn more at the university level, so he decided to take Maden’s lab.
Maden said Sandoval’s uniqueness stems from his intelligence, drive and ability to interact with different kinds of people.
“He’s behaved like a dynamic scientist, not like an undergrad,” he said. “Completely amazing, totally unique guy.”
Sandoval said he feels fortunate to have won the award and to have so many people who helped him get to this point.
“I couldn’t have done it without the support of family, friends, mentors,” he said. “It took a whole village to win this thing.”
Contact Emma McAvoy at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @EmmaMcAvoy1.