Researchers to present new findings on Chiari, a brain malformation, at Akron conference


Researchers from around the country will gather Friday and Saturday at The University of Akron to share the latest findings on Chiari malformation, a neurological disorder at the bottom of the brain that causes at least 300,000 Americans to endure head and neck pain, loss of fine motor control and many other symptoms.

Rebecca Santelli

Rebecca Santelli

The Conquer Chiari Research Conference, held every two years, is coming to Akron for the first time. UA’s two-year-old Conquer Chiari Research Center, the first and only center solely dedicated to researching Chiari malformation, will host the conference. Previous conferences were in Chicago.

Key presentations include:

  • A study by Rebecca Santelli, Ph.D., of the University of North Carolina showing that children born to women taking antidepressants during pregnancy may be more at risk to develop Chiari malformation.
  • A study by Philip Allen, Ph.D., of The University of Akron suggesting that Chiari patients suffer from cognitive problems.
  • A report by Francis Loth, Ph.D., executive director of the Conquer Chiari Research Center, on new findings about how Chiari disrupts the flow of cerebrospinal fluid and how that information can help in diagnosing Chiari and evaluating the success of treatments.
  • A panel discussion, “Voices of Chiari: Patient Experiences,” conducted by three Northeast Ohio Medical University staff members in family and community medicine.
Philip Allen

Philip Allen

Kayla Gray, a graduate student in applied anatomy at Case Western Reserve University, is both a researcher at The University of Akron center and a Chiari patient. As a teenager she suffered unexplained headaches, neck pain and vision problems until an MRI found a Chiari malformation. Surgery created new passages for cerebrospinal fluid to flow and relieved pressure on the brain.

Because of her struggles with Chiari, Gray set about finding a way to contribute to research on the condition. Since August she has been earning academic credit at CWRU by working in the UA center’s lab. This weekend she will present a poster on her research at the conference.

Wide range of symptoms possible

Patients experience Chiari in a wide variety of ways. Some may have symptoms similar to Gray’s. Some may even be symptom-free. Others may experience dizziness, depression, muscle weakness, balance problems, lack of coordination, numbness in limbs, hearing problems, trouble swallowing, insomnia, vomiting or loss of fine motor skills. Infants may drool excessively, be irritable when feeding, have trouble swallowing and gaining weight, show delayed development, have a weak cry, or experience breathing problems.

Francis Loth

Francis Loth

For many years researchers estimated that one in 1,000 people have Chiari. But more recently, with advances in diagnostic imaging, the condition has been shown to be more common than previously thought.

The Conquer Chiari Research Conference runs from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 7, and from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 8, at the Polymer Engineering Academic Center, South Forge and Hill streets on the UA campus. About 80 researchers and others with an interest in the condition are expected. Conference details are available on the research center’s website.

The Conquer Chiari Research Center, established at UA in 2012, uses engineering techniques and analyses to improve diagnoses and treatment options. Partners include the Cleveland Clinic, Akron General Health System and The University of Wisconsin.

The research center is supported by Conquer Chiari, a suburban Pittsburgh nonprofit founded by Chiari patient Rick Labuda, who will deliver the opening address at the conference.

Media contact: Roger Mezger, 330-972-4219 or