Chiari research team draws crowd to Akron


CCRC open house guest Spencer bonds with researcher Suraj Thyagaraj, a Ph.D. candidate, while he holds a 3D model of a human spine, used to study Chiari malformation.

Typically, when engineers explore how things work, they tend to focus on machines. Engineers, along with colleagues in psychology, nutrition, biology, chemistry and mathematics, focused their skills on the approximately one in 1,000 Americans who live with unrelenting pain due to a neurological disorder called Chiari malformation — and described their research — at the April 27 Conquer Chiari Research Center at The University of Akron open house.
About 140 people made a pilgrimage to the center from as far away as Virginia, New York, Michigan, Texas and Kentucky to get an insider's look at the novel research under way by the UA Chiari research team — to advance the diagnosis and treatment of a mysterious and painful neurological disorder: Chiari malformation.

First of its kind center

"Chiari patients and their families who came received a hands-on view of the Chiari research going on at UA," says Frank Loth, UA professor ofmechanical engineering and executive director of the CCRC at UA.

"They got to hold models, touch experiments, meet the researchers, and talk with them one-on-one about the work under way that would be beneficial to Chiari patients in the years ahead," continues Loth. "It gave them a chance to talk about their difficulties with a researcher, rather than a physician."
The CCRC is the world's first research center dedicated solely to advancing the scientific understanding of Chiari malformation. Chiari — as common as multiple sclerosis, but often misdiagnosed — is congenital and occurs when part of the brain protrudes into the spinal column, causing an imbalance in the flow of spinal fluid. This fluid imbalance can result in terrible, sometimes unbearable pain. Researchers are working to understand fluid flow in the brain, and help doctor's better treat patients.

Frank Loth, left, executive director, CCRC; Rick Labuda, Conquer Chiari founder and executive director; Bryn Martin, CCRC director.

The CCRC research team is expanding quickly to include faculty from virtually every discipline. UA professor of psychology Philip Allen is conducting research to determine links, if any, between Chiari malformation and cognition. UA professor Nic Leipzig is investigating the molecular biology of syringomyelia, an associated condition with Chiari malformation. In all, the CCRC research team includes 10 UA faculty members. In addition to Loth, Allen and Leipzig are Dr. Bryn Martin, Malena Español, Mardi Parelman, Leah Shriver, Hamid Bahrami, Jae-Won Choi and John Elias.  

Offering hope

"Patients are interested in our work at the CCRC because it can be really scary to have Chiari," says Martin, director of the CCRC. "In many cases, treatment options are not clear. They want to take action and learn about Chiari so that they have a better understanding about what to do when they seek treatment. They also are interested to know about the most current techniques being developed to look at Chiari and how these methods might impact treatment in the future.

“I hope that patients left with an awareness of the tremendous amount of effort being focused on Chiari research at the CCRC and the sense that our diverse team is going to help lead a revolution in Chiari understanding and treatment,” adds Martin.

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Media contact: Denise Henry, 330-972-6477 or