Technology Saving People and Their Best Friends, Too

Cushing’s disease is a condition caused by the excess production of the hormone ACTH by pituitary gland tumors.   Cushing’s disease is rare in humans and the tumors that cause it are usually very small. These constraints make it hard to do research on these tumors and develop newer treatments.  Interestingly, Cushing’s disease is very common in dogs, with more than 100,000 cases per year in the United stated alone. Without treatment, the canine disease is fatal, and the few existing drugs for the condition are usually not curative, have serious side effects, and can be very expensive. While surgery is very successful in humans, it is not performed routinely in dogs due to many technical difficulties.

Now a new surgical scope tested at Cedars-Sinai is solving both problems.  

Neurosurgeon Adam N. Mamelak, M.D., was studying the new device when veterinary endocrinologists and surgeons at VCA West Los Angeles Animal Hospital expressed an interest in having him teach them to perform pituitary surgery in dogs.

Under Dr. Mamelak’s guidance, the lives of nine dogs and two cats were saved in a short time, and the numbers are climbing. The exoscope, or VITOM®, is perfect for dogs’ long snouts. For instrument insertion and tumor removal, a tiny hole is made in the back of the mouth to enter the skull at the base of the brain. The scope provides up to 12 times magnification and projects its image onto a large high-definition video monitor.

With each operation, Dr. Mamelak, a specialist in minimally invasive pituitary surgery and a co-director of the Pituitary Center, collects tumor tissue to bring back to Cedars-Sinai’s laboratories. Canine pituitary tumors are not identical to those in humans but are very similar, and scientists have already begun to make important observations about treating the tumors with certain drugs. They hope to develop new medications that will attack canine tumor cells in lab tests, shrink tumors in dogs and have the same results in humans.

“This collaboration benefits both humans and canines with these tumors,” Dr. Mamelak says. “In addition to saving dogs’ lives, it provides a mechanism for early testing of drug therapies that may be useful for humans as well.”