Just two miles from the Minnesota State Fair Grounds on the University of Minnesota - St. Paul campus there is an internationally known scholar that operates within the Small Animal Hospital at the Veterinary Medical Center within the College of Veterinary Medicine.
His name is Dr. Jody Lulich. He serves as the co-director of the Minnesota Urolith Center, diplomate in the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine, professor and endowed Hills/Osborne Chair in nephrology and urology at the University of Minnesota. Lulich is an internationally renowned clinical investigator and educator in nephrology, the branch of medicine that deals with the kidney, and urology, the scientific, clinical and surgical aspects of the study of the urine and the genitourinary tract in health and disease. Under the direction of Lulich, the center carries out the mission established at its inception in 1981, “to help veterinarians investigate causes and cures for urolithiasis, the formation of stones in the urinary tract.” The center analyzes 87,000 stone submissions per year from veterinarians in 65 different countries. To date the center has analyzed uroliths from 1.3 million animals from 90 different species, including companion animals, farm animals and wild animals. Lulich is known for developing the technique of voiding urohydropropulsion, a nonsurgical method to remove uroliths from the urinary bladder. In addition to his scholarly expertise and exploits he is an award-winning creative writer and classically trained pianist.
The researcher sat down with Maya Beecham on behalf of Insight News to share his work, his educational experience, and his vison for the Minnesota Urolith Center.
Maya Beecham: Explain what you do and the importance of urology?
Dr. Jody Lulich: I spend 20 percent of my time in the clinic. I am actually trained in internal medicine, but I had done so much work in the area of urology. That’s really where all of my patients come from.
They come or wait for me because I am on two days of every two weeks. I do some unique things. My mission is to make the surgical removal of stones obsolete. Working with certain colleagues of mine we dissolve stones with diet and medication so that animals don’t have to go through surgery.
I do a procedure called laser lithotripsy cystoscopy where I will break up the stones in smaller pieces and either flush them or pull them out of the urinary tract so dogs don’t have to go through surgery. Dogs don’t have to go to sleep. Female cats either, but male cats’ anatomy is so small I can’t use those techniques on them. I am always into trying to make things better.
I also do a research side. I try and understand not only how stones form but how we can prevent them or how we can dissolve them. And its meaningful to me because if we can manage them non-surgically then we minimize pain and discomfort and all that stuff that goes along with it.
I also work with human urologists. So, some of the diseases in animals are very similar to people. Not only can the work I do help them but hopefully the work they do can help me.
I also do teaching. I teach a variety of things but mainly urinary diseases and besides that I run a big stone analysis center. It’s the biggest stone center in the world. It’s bigger than the largest human lab stone center as well. We analyze 84,000 samples in a year and the biggest human lab stone center in the world analyzes 50,000 stones in a year. We do 1.3 million stones. If we do the math it will be at one and a half to two years before we see the 1.5 millionth stone. I enjoy what I do and I feel like I make a difference.
MB: One day you saw a dog get hit and it struck a chord in you to pursue a career as a veterinarian?
JL: There was a dog that got hit by a car and got run over. That’s what got me started in a career in veterinary medicine. I was 9 (years old).
MB: What were the next steps that happened in your journey to becoming a veterinarian?
JL: I grew up in Chicago. I went to Robert Lindblom Math & Science Academy High School. Then I went to Northwestern University and got my Bachelor of Arts in biology. I applied for veterinarian school and didn’t get in the first time believe it or not, but I did get in the second time. I went to Tuskegee University in 1980 and graduated in 1984 first in my class. I applied for an internship, which is the beginning of more advanced training, and when you apply for an internship you don’t choose where you go, they choose you. (On the list) I put a big hospital in New York. Minnesota was second and Cornell University Hospital for Animals was third. Minnesota accepted me. I think I thought I was going to get my first choice, but I didn’t. I did my residency in internal medicine and my Ph.D. at the same time and it took five years. After that I started a faculty position and the rest is history. It was 1990 when I started the faculty position.
MB: What is the next research question you have to answer?
JL: Why do calcium oxalate stones form? If we can figure out why they form, then we can hopefully prevent them. It’s a big disease in people and it’s a big disease in a whole group of dogs and it’s a painful disease. So, with colleagues of mine are working on the genetics, we are working on the anatomy. Trying to understand why they form, and why they form in the kidney.
MB: What is your vision for the center?
JL: My vision for the center is really we have to provide some type of service to have a sense of caring. We have to provide some sense of mission research to make things better. It is not enough just for me to analyze stones from dogs and cats and animals from all over the world but if we can learn from that and actually have better treatments in the future that would be the goal. That would be a good legacy to leave, to leave it better than what you can and hopefully emulate that. It is more than just service it’s service with the goal of improving. Part of your service is not only taking care of the immediate but making sure the future is also better than the present or the past. That is why the service is so important. You need to look in order to develop or see ideas.