Biomed Student Wins CSU Research Competition

Cal Poly biomedical engineering student Tanvi Gehani took first place in her category at this
year’s CSU Research Competition with her project, “A study into different types of saturated fat
sources and their effects to the liver and overall gut health.”

The CSU Research Competition brings together students from CSUs across California to
present their research. Prior to the statewide competition, an internal competition was held at
Cal Poly to select those who would move on to the next round. Out of over 40 students, Gehani
was one of the 10 that made it through. At the statewide competition, 220 students showcased
their projects with a presentation and participated in a Q&A session with a panel of judges. At
the end of it all, Gehani came away with 1st place in her category: Health, Nutrition, and Clinical

“Gehani working in the Cal Poly biomedical engineering labs.”

The project examines the western diet and its effect on gut and liver health.

“The western diet’s prevalence in our society, particularly in children’s lives, exposes people to
high saturated fats all the time,” said Gehani. “Such high saturated fat consumption has been
shown to be associated with metabolic syndrome, which is characterized by a wide range of
conditions including obesity, cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty
liver disease,” said Gehani.

The project utilized juvenile pigs, whose organs are reflective of a young child’s. Metabolic
syndrome was induced by feeding one group of pigs with feed enriched in lard, and another
group with feed enriched in coconut oil for 10 weeks.

“In a previous study done in our Cal Poly lab, we were able to definitively show that saturated fat
is bad for overall gut health, and now we wanted to see which source of that saturated fat is
worse: lard, or coconut oil,” she said. “There are a whole lot of health benefits shown to be
associated with coconut oil, including its antioxidant properties, but it’s also extremely high in
saturated fat. We wanted to investigate the effect of lard vs. coconut oil on overall liver health on
patients with metabolic syndrome.” Gehani hypothesized that coconut oil would lead to a
decrease in liver injury as opposed to lard, but her test’s results proved different. A variety of
tests ran on the pig’s blood indicated an increase in both fat buildup and the expression of
genes associated with cell proliferation, indicating tissue damage. The project concluded that,
despite its other attractive properties, for patients who already have metabolic syndrome and a
high fat intake, coconut oil is worse for overall liver health than lard.

“Gehani at the 2022 CSU Research Competition with her presentation: ‘Effect of Coconut
Oil Intake on the Gut-Liver-Brain Axis in a Juvenile Iberian Pig Model.'”

“It was really rewarding,” said Gehani. “Causality relationships are not so straightforward; you
have to test things and draw these different conclusions. I feel like I learned a lot both as a
scientist and an engineer because I had to design these experiments, run and troubleshoot
them as well.”

“I really enjoyed working in the lab. It allowed me to apply everything I have learned in my
classes and use that knowledge to contribute research to diseases that have a large impact on
the general population.”


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