University of Akron receives funding for research center to help heal patients with Chiari malformation
Expertise in fluid mechanics at The University of Akron has attracted funding for a new research center designed to help physicians better diagnose and treat an unusual cause of pain in the head, neck and shoulders. Chiari malformation is a disorder of the neurologic system caused in part by an imbalance in brain and spinal fluid. UA engineers are able to probe the "hydraulics behind the headaches" and develop new diagnostic methods to detect which patients are most likely to benefit from surgery.
Chiari gets its name from a pathologist who discovered a malformation in the brain in which the bottom part of the brain (the cerebellum) bulges out of the base of the skull and crowds the spinal cord, blocking the normal flow of spinal fluid, and creating unusual pressure and sometimes excruciating headaches and nerve damage. CM is similar to multiple sclerosis in its frequency, but has received little attention until recently when advanced diagnostic imaging has increased the incidence of detection and understanding.
The Conquer Chiari Research Center will open this summer at UA's new engineering research facility, with $275,000 in initial funding from the Conquer Chiari foundation, based in Pittsburgh, and a pledge for $140,000 in annual renewal funding. The funding supports the work of mechanical engineer and associate professor Dr. Francis Loth: "Essentially, we're developing new MRI methods using computational fluid dynamics to simulate the flow of fluids from the intracranial space into the spine. We can visualize the blockages that prevent normal flow of fluid and determine if surgery is warranted."
Working with physicians and patients from the Cleveland Clinic and University of Cincinnati Medical Center, Loth has tested his imaging model on 10 patients during the past two years with positive results.
An earlier grant from the National Institutes of Health, totaling nearly a half-million dollars, supporting Dr. Loth's research helped inspire funding for the new UA research center.
"It's clear to us that the University and the Greater Akron area represent a hub of biomedical activity parallel with our priorities," says Rick Labuda, founder and executive director of Conquer Chiari. "This is a critically important project and it is spreading a great deal of excitement."