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Russell Sakai Studies Calf Health in STAR Program

October 29, 2010

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October 29, 2010

STAR student Russell Sakai, along with 37 other veterinary students, took part in the program’s finale on Friday, September 24th with a poster presentation of his research on the “Effect of colostral volume on absorption of glucose in calves fed by oroesophogeal tubing.” As this year’s sole Food Animal Medicine project, Sakai’s research concerning the natal quality of food animals is valuable on multiple levels—for the future health of the animal as well as the health of humans consuming animal byproducts.

With guidance from UC Davis faculty member Dr. Munashe Chigerwe, who specializes in Food Animal Medicine and surgery, Sakai focused on the volume and quality of bovine colostrum—the first lactation from the mother ingested by calves—administered to the dairy calves. Working out of Chigerwe’s lab, a part of the Medicine and Epidemiology department at the veterinary school, student and mentor “wanted to see how much effect a lower volume had on immunity.” They expected that a smaller amount of colostrum allowance to the calves would result “in a lesser absorption” and thus a more vulnerable immune system in the livestock.

After administering a steady three liters of colostrum to the dairy calves according to a time-sensitive schedule, as opposed to the four liters previously allotted to the calves, Sakai concluded that: “there is no effect.” Though these were not the findings Sakai expected, they are certainly not disappointing.

At the center of Sakai and Chigerwe’s research and findings lies the importance in the dichotomy between Food Animal research and community profit. As “good quality colostrum can often be limited on large dairies” due to shortages caused by an array of natural and human-caused flaws, “being able to give less colostrum and achieve the same level of maternal immunity in the newborn is beneficial” to both the calf and those relying on the future use of the animal, says Sakai.

Sakai is appreciative of the balance between having had a “great deal of freedom” along with a readily available mentor throughout his project, expressing his gratitude to Chigerwe, and saying, “[The project] taught me about developing protocols and adapting to problems as they occurred.” Food Animal Medicine remains a definite area of interest for Sakai in his future studies. “The scrutiny of production animals will continue to grow in the future, and ensuring proper management practice through research is important.”

By completing a 10-week summer program, the Students Training in Advanced Research program provides a gateway for first-, second-, and third-year veterinary students into experience in a wide variety of biomedical research. The program is composed of five tiers including a plan, hypothesis, knowledge, composition, and presentation. The students are  exposed to opportunities, and they are equipped with a mentor from the UC Davis veterinary faculty. This year’s 38 STAR students received funds from the school, the National Institutes of Health, the Merial animal health company and Morris Animal Foundation. Sakai’s research was funded by Merial's foundation and Dr. Chigerwe's research funds.

For more information on the Students Training in Advanced Research Program, visit:

This article was written by Alyson Salmon, a writing/marketing intern from the Department of American Studies.