No stone unturned
MEET THE U’S JODY LULICH: ANIMAL LOVER, CREATIVE WRITER, AND KIDNEY STONE DETECTIVE
When Jody Lulich was 9 years old, he saw a dog run over by a car. It devastated him—and set him on a course for veterinary school. “I wanted to help,” Lulich recalls. “I wanted to make a difference.”
Today, Lulich holds the Osborne/Hills Chair in Nephrology and Urology in the University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine. He is nationally known for developing a noninvasive technique for removing urinary stones (also called uroliths) in animals and does much of his work through the U’s Minnesota Urolith Center, the largest urinary stone center in the world.
In addition to working at the center, teaching students, and caring for animals, Lulich is an accomplished pianist and award-winning writer.
Did you grow up with animals? Do you have pets now?
My family’s first dog was a black cocker spaniel named Lightning, and my family raised Doberman pinschers while I was in high school. My partner and I have a geriatric Yorkshire terrier, Frazier, as well as a cat and a blue-and-gold macaw. The cat and dog were rescued from families who could no longer keep them.
What led you to Minnesota?
I’m originally from Chicago and got my undergraduate degree at Northwestern before going to Tuskegee for veterinary school. In 1984, my internship brought me to Minnesota. To be honest, it was my second choice (I wanted to go to New York City), but it changed my life because I met veterinary professor Carl Osborne.
How did he make a difference in your life?
Carl taught me how to be a scientist. He was a keen observer, a wise analyzer, and the originator of the Minnesota Urolith Center. In the middle of my one-year internship, he asked if I wanted to stay and complete a Ph.D. and medicine residency. I said no—I wanted to be a pathologist. The following week he asked me again, and I said no again.
Then Carl told me that I had to decide in a few days because the U lacked an opening for a resident and Ph.D. student and, if I accepted his offer, he needed time to create the position. No one had ever showed such concern for my well-being and development. He saw something in me. I gave up my aspirations to become a pathologist, and the rest is history.
How did you become interested in uroliths?
Carl introduced me to the fascinating science that underlies bladder stone formation. I am currently working on the interactions between the kidney and calcium oxalate stone formation. Kidney stones in cats and humans appear to form this stone type by similar mechanisms. We’re collaborating with the Medical School, the College of Dentistry, and faculty members in earth sciences, chemical engineering, and materials science to understand the structure and function of initial urolith formation.
What does having an endowed chair mean to you?
The endowed position has allowed me to focus on teaching and research. It has given me the opportunity to collaborate with others and make discoveries. Being offered the chair has fueled my passion to assist others in their training as I was assisted in mine.
You assign To Kill a Mockingbird in some of your classes. Why?
There’s a section about rabies, so the book helps students learn. I love reading and also creative writing—I’ve written a lot about my clients, their pets, and how they have contributed meaningfully to my life and work. My other passion is music. I play classical piano and take lessons. Music has a way of relieving the stress of work or just making me want to get up and dance.
Joel Hoekstra is a Minneapolis writer.
FROM THE FILES OF THE MINNESOTA UROLITH CENTER
Some look like starbursts. Others like candy hearts. These tiny stone jewels are among 1 million animal urinary stone samples in the U of M’s Minnesota Urolith Center collection. But the pain and suffering they can cause isn’t pretty.
The center, established in 1981 and now directed by Jody Lulich, Osborne/Hills Chair in Nephrology and Urology at the College of Veterinary Medicine, is the largest urinary stone center in the world. Each year, the center analyzes the mineral content of approximately 85,000 samples. The results help researchers learn how to better treat and care for animals with urinary tract disease.
Private gifts, as well as an annual grant from Hill’s Pet Nutrition, support the center, allowing the organization to offer its services free of charge and collect large volumes of data on stone formers.
“Every day we help veterinarians and scientists make a difference for pets and pet owners,” Lulich says. “It’s very gratifying work.”
What are those strange-looking objects?