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Specialty Clinic Grows from Unique Partnership

Specialty Clinic Grows from Unique Partnership

By Christopher Coyne

Most of us probably don't think about our pituitary glands much. It's a good thing for us that there are some forward-thinking professionals at the University of Rochester Medical Center that do. The URMC Pituitary Program is a unique interdisciplinary clinical endeavor that offers patients of the region comprehensive care in one location, the only one in Upstate of its kind. Healthy Life spoke to the program's co-principal URMC neurosurgeon G. Edward Vates, MD, PhD about what sparked the creation of the Pituitary Program and why it has become such an asset to the region. But first let's talk get a little background on the little gland with a very big job.

Belying its size, the pituitary gland-sometimes called the master gland-plays a major role in a wide variety of body functions. The pea-sized gland acts a sort of message center for our endocrine system, taking cues from our brain's hypothalamus; it manufactures and secretes eight different types of hormones, sending them to other glands in our body and ensuring or regulating proper hormone production from all glands throughout the system. An improperly functioning pituitary gland, whether because of a tumor or some other issue, can result in any number of health problems, from diabetes to infertility.

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One in five people have some sort of abnormality in their pituitary gland. That doesn't mean that everyone with an abnormality will suffer serious health issues, but sometimes these abnormalities can explain the root cause of health problems we're experiencing. Weight loss, weight gain, diabetes, infertility, erectile dysfunction-all of these issues can be the result of a pituitary problem, and it takes the expertise of an endocrinologist to make that determination.

If indeed, a health issue is the result of a pituitary problem, a treatment protocol will be discussed. And sometimes this treatment will involve surgical removal of pituitary tumors, a procedure performed by a neurosurgeon. Here is where the two disciplines of endocrinology and neurosurgery intersect, and it's here where the spark of inspiration for URMC's Pituitary Program arose.

Dr. Vates said that although pituitary problems are quite common, interdisciplinary treatment teamwork is not. There was an unmet need for comprehensive pituitary care in the region and thanks the proximity of qualified professionals at URMC, there was an opportunity to address that need. Dr. Vates has training in pituitary problems and Dr. Laura Calvi of their Department of Endocrinology does as well.

The Pituitary Program grew from there. Now patients can receive all tests, diagnoses, consultation and treatment-even surgery in the same location; a boon for patients, particularly those who are travelling a longer distance to see the doctor.

To illustrate how pituitary problems have widely varying effects on a diverse swath of the population, Dr. Vates gave us examples of some of the Pituitary Program's success stories. A man in his 50s with erectile dysfunction was prescribed Viagra by his doctor. It didn't solve the problem, so, seeking other options he went the URMC and it was discovered that he had a pituitary tumor. After treatment the problem has been resolved. A 33-year old woman was feeling depressed after repeated attempts to get pregnant.

After a visit to URMC, it was discovered that she wasn't infertile; again a pituitary tumor was the culprit. It was removed and the woman was able to conceive. An 18-year old boy who hadn't gone through puberty was found to have a pituitary tumor that was affecting proper hormone levels in his body. Once the tumor was removed, the boy's testosterone levels returned to normal and he's gone through puberty. A 50 year-old woman developed severe diabetes and had a massive weight gain over a relatively short period of time. After URMC discovered and removed a tumor on her pituitary gland, the woman was able to lose most of the weight and control her diabetes.

Without access to the specialists in the Pituitary Program, these patients, and many others, might have had to suffer with health issues for much longer; perhaps never finding out that their issues could be resolved with pituitary testing, diagnosis and treatment. A unique medical partnership in Upstate New York has changed that.

G. Edward Vates, MD, PhD
University of Rochester Medical Center Pituitary Program