Courtesy Photo | Haley Marconett

“You’re coo-coo,” officials at University of California, Davis told Rodrigo Manjarin when he told them his plan. Manjarin wanted to test pigs for Type 2 diabetes.

They told Manjarin the project would take too long to develop and could not be done in a single lifetime. That was two years ago.

Now, as an assistant professor in Cal Poly’s Animal Science Department, Manjarin is leading 11 Cal Poly students in a research project using Iberian piglets to research possible causes of Type 2 diabetes. The team feeds piglets fructose, or fruit sugar, in the first four weeks after birth to study how their bodies metabolizes it.

Manjarin said he chose piglets as subjects because Iberian pigs have the same gene for Type 2 diabetes as humans. Most research uses mice, which don’t resemble humans.

Examining a country-wide health risk

Type 2 diabetes is a condition that is thought to be developed from a poor diet. Manjarin said the piglets will be used as a model to see if high levels of fructose, commonly consumed by U.S. children, leads to Type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes was once a disease that mostly affected people older than 40. Now, that is not the case.

“[Type 2 diabetes] is increasingly being seen in children even as young as elementary school age,” San Luis Obispo County Public Health Director  Penny Borenstein said.

Rates of childhood Type 2 diabetes in San Luis Obispo are less than the national and state averages, but the problem still exists here.

“We are a long ways from solving childhood obesity,” Borenstein said.

Manjarin and his students are working toward that solution. However, it wasn’t easy to get to this point.

Pursuing the research

After his research was rejected from two other universities, Cal Poly accepted Manjarin’s project. Cal Poly’s Animal Science Department gave the project three years with full freedom to find funding, develop the plan and start the research. 

The Spanish customs department was initially against the idea of flying Iberian pigs to the United States. Iberian pigs are native to Spain and predisposed to obesity, making them desirable for Type 2 diabetes research. Manjarin and his team spent years filling out paperwork and paying the Spanish government associated fees.

It took 14 years to successfully fly the pigs from Spain to Texas.

Manjarin was given a $400,000 grant to fund the research. After the projected three-year goal, Manjarin and his students are hoping to get the research findings published.

“Cal Poly is the only institution doing research on this type of pig,” Manjarin said.

The project is a big step for the Cal Poly Animal Science Department and publication of the research could increase funding.

Cal Poly currently has one male and 10 female pigs, as well as a litter of newborn piglets born Oct. 26. The piglets live at Cal Poly’s Cheda Ranch and are cared for by Manjarin and his students in Animal Production and Management Enterprise (ASCI 290) and Advanced Animal Production and Management Enterprise (ASCI 490).

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