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University of Akron gets funding for headache patients

5:42 PM, Jul 24, 2012   |    comments
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AKRON -- 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 that is 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. The doctors at the center will develop new MRI methods using computational fluid dynamics to simulate the flow of fluids from the intracranial space into the spine.  

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. 

Patients with CM often suffer from head, neck and shoulder pain, trouble swallowing, sleep apnea, loss of bladder, bowel or fine motor control, weakness in arms and legs, balance problems, numbness in hands and feet, and progressive nerve damage. The symptoms can be relieved after surgery to create a more normal flow of spinal fluid with a reported 70 percent success rate in reduction of symptoms.  

Dr. Bryn Martin, a former scientist with the prestigious Swiss Federal Institute of Technology of Lausanne and former postdoctoral research fellow at UA, returned to Akron two weeks ago lead the center. "Frank Loth has been an inspiration to me as an engineer and a longtime mentor," Martin says."As an engineer, it's a true pleasure to work on Chiari because it doesn't involve building bombs or automobiles. We work with people and can have an impact on lives."  

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