Man's Best Friend

Technology Saving People and Their Best Friends, Too

Volunteer dogs from the hospital’s pet visitation program, POOCH (Pets Offering Ongoing Care and Healing) surround Dr. Mamelak to thank him with tail wags and affectionate barks for his trailblazing veterinary efforts. Pictured from left are Venus, Pierre, Penny, Toby (in Dr. Mamelak's arms), Kelly, Moki, and Henry.

“A sweet and easy-going mutt.” That’s how Adam Mamelak, MD, describes his dog, Maya. If Maya could speak, she would probably say that her owner is “an especially kind man— a renowned neurosurgeon who loves dogs and uses his expertise to save our lives.”

Cushing’s disease, a hormonal disorder caused by a tumor in the pituitary gland, is extremely rare in humans. In dogs, however, it is common—affecting 100,000 animals each year in the U.S. Because the pituitary is small and deeply lodged within the brain, tumors are not usually removed in veterinary medicine, and the disease is generally fatal for animals.

Enter Dr. Mamelak, who is best in show in his own way. An expert neurosurgeon who co-directs the Pituitary Center at Cedars-Sinai, Mamalek has mastered a novel endoscopic approach to pituitary surgery in humans. Until recently, the procedure required an incision in the lip and destruction of nasal structures. Mamelak uses a minimally invasive technique that is “as close to incision-less surgery as can be,” he says. “There are no cuts, bruises, or unsightly scars, and the technology increases our ability to remove every last bit of tumor.”

When Dr. David Bruyette at the VCA West Los Angeles Animal Hospital found out about the surgery, he called Dr. Mamelak to see if it could be applied to removing pituitary tumors in dogs. Surgeons in the Netherlands have performed this procedure but their methods proved too technically challenging for widespread use. Mamelak adjusted the procedure to work with a dog’s anatomy—improving the effectiveness of the operation. So far, eight dogs and one cat have undergone successful surgery and returned to normal life with complete remission of their disease.

The best part: this collaboration isn’t just good for man’s best friend. Because Cushing’s disease only affects one in a million individuals, there is little research into new treatments. The tumor tissue removed from the dogs’ pituitary carries precious information for Dr. Mamelak and researchers at the Pituitary Center who study this tissue is the laboratory, hoping it may shed more light on Cushing’s disease and help develop therapies for humans.

Dr. Bruyette couldn’t be happier with the collaboration. “As veterinarians, we usually use advances in human medicine to develop animal treatments. In this case, the lifesaving treatments we are developing for animals may some day benefit humans.”