While clients of the small animal hospital are waiting to get a diagnosis on a pet who may or may not have cancer, a crack team of cytopathologists are working behind the scenes at the OSU Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (VDL) to provide answers as quickly as possible.
That team of experts includes Dr. Elena Gorman, Assistant Professor of Clinical Pathology, Dr. Sue Tornquist, Interim Dean and Clinical Pathologist, and Dr. Austin Viall, Clinical Pathology Resident. Their work involves the examination under a microscope of preparations made from body fluids or solid tissue that is sent to them by doctors at the OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital.
“In the course of a day, we take multiple ultrasound-guided, fine needle aspirates and within a few hours, or less if needed, we can get an answer if the patient has potential cancer or not,” says Dr. Susanne Stieger-Vanegas, Assistant Professor of veterinary diagnostic imaging. “Without their tremendous expertise and knowledge, we would not get a quick answer on what we are dealing with,” says Stieger-Vanegas.
Fine needle aspiration is a rapid method for determining if a solid lump of tissue is benign or malignant. By using a syringe to extract cells from a suspicous growth, then examining them under a microscope, an experienced cytopathologist can look for the presence of cell abnormalities and make a diagnosis. It is faster and less invasive than a biopsy.
In addition to the rewards of helping to treat and save pets, there are other aspects of cytopathology that make this team passionate about their work. “Cells are really very beautiful,’ says Dr. Tornquist. “I’m a big mystery fan. Looking for patterns in the cell types, and other things we see in a cytology sample, is like trying to put together all the clues in a mystery and solving it. And at the end of this process, you can have an impact on the lives of animals and their people.”
One advantage of being a VDL pathologist, as opposed to working at a laboratory that services hundreds of veterinary hospitals, is that the patients and doctors are located right down the hall. “I love that I have a plethora of specialists who I can turn to for information and education,” says Gorman. “Being associated with a teaching hospital makes our diagnostic capabilities so much stronger. It’s invaluable to be able to discuss the clinical aspects of a case and even go look at the patient if I so choose,” she says. “I can’t imagine working anywhere else.”
In addition to diagnosing disease, the pathologists also participate in numerous research projects and teach students. “I love teaching and working with students, house officers and clinicians,” says Gorman. “It’s so much more fun to share the experience because, well, cells are cool!”