Importance of the Mechanical Forces in the Development of Syringomyelia for Patients With Chiari Malformation


Grant Recipient: Francis Loth, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, University of Illinois-Chicago

Dates: October 1, 2002 September 30, 2003

Grant Amount: $50,000

A mechanical engineer, Dr. Frank Loth proposed a research study that built upon his previous work in this area. His team at UIC has developed software that uses MRI data to build a patient-specific, mathematical model of CSF in the region around a Chiari malformation. Dr. Loth proposed investigating the role pressure plays in syrinx formation, progression and regression. To do this, he built physical models that closely matched the human body’s spinal canal and recreated the conditions present in syringomyelia. The models allowed him to experiment in a way not possible inside the human body. Using MRI data obtained from a Chiari/syringomyelia patient, Dr. Loth built two models of the spinal canal and cord, one before and one after a decompression surgery. With the models, Dr. Loth studied how the fluid in and around a syrinx behaved with a focus on analyzing the pressure around the syrinx.

Dr. Loth built upon his work in developing 3-D models of the CSF/spinal cord system to allow examination of CSF pressure changes in the vicinity of the syrinx and associated geometry changes (compliance) during the cardiac cycle. Unique to his work, Dr. Loth constructed the first functional mechanical model of the CSF/spinal cord system for a CMI/S patient, allowing him to analyze conditions that are conducive to syrinx formation. Quite often, research leads to difficult questions that ultimately advance our understanding of how things work. Interestingly, Dr. Loth found that the CSF pressure was higher in the syrinx than outside (in the subarachnoid space). The paradox that he noted is that fluid flow always goes from high to low pressure and that one would expect that conditions would be unfavorable for syrinx formation.

Dr. Loth believes that studying the pressure environment in the spinal canal may be the key to understanding the development of syringomyelia. Armed with this knowledge, physicians may be able to refine their surgical techniques, predict when a syrinx will form or regress and develop entirely new treatment options.

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