The Healing Power of the Arts

Ohio State dancer discovers her new purpose as healer


Two elements have been at the core of Mimi Lamantia's life — her love of dance and her desire to help others heal.

At Ohio State, she discovered how her two life foundations connect to create remarkable outcomes.

"My freshman year I was taking a dance education class, and my professor was talking not only about how dance is being taught and used in schools, but also in the medical field," she said. "I also met (faculty member) Lise (Worthen-Chaudhari) that year, which was crucial because it gave me an immediate connection with the medical center.

"That was all facilitated via the Department of Dance and the curriculum that they already have laid out to promote a multidisciplinary education within a dance education."

With a foundation in the arts and medicine established, Lamantia got to work exploring the intersections of dance and medicine. She had an able guide and mentor in Worthen-Chaudhari, a former dancer and research scientist, who served as associate director of the Human Motion Analysis and Recovery Laboratory within Dodd Hall at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

Worthen-Chaudhari's lab was the perfect place for Lamantia to cultivate her ideas about dance and the ways it could help people with movement challenges.

She began to take a particular interest in chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN), which causes pain and imbalance for those who have survived cancer. Up to 60 percent of survivors who've had chemotherapy suffer from CIPN.

While there had been significant research on how dance can be used to treat things such as Parkinson's disease, its effectiveness in treating CIPN was largely unexplored. Lamantia dug into this research, creating a project that won first prize in Ohio State's Denman Undergraduate Research Forum, and was subsequently selected to represent the university at the 2016 Universitas 21 (U21) Research Conference in Monterrey, Mexico.

These findings set the stage for her program Argentine Tango for Cancer Survivors, which earned funding as a part of the Pelotonia Fellowship. The intervention was comprised a three 10-week sessions in which those participating used the tango to improve their movement and balance.

The result? Participants reported a 56 percent improvement in their balance. "Seeing it succeed for someone recovering from cancer was absolutely phenomenal," Lamantia said.

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A researcher in the Neurological Institute, Lise Worthen-Chaudhari, works across disciplines to treat patients. That same collaboration made her a natural guide to support Mimi's research.

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Power of Partnership

Pelotonia has raised more than $150 million for cancer research since its inception in 2008. The annual central Ohio bike ride and grassroots movement also has created valuable research opportunities for Ohio State students — including undergraduate, graduate, doctoral and postdoctoral researchers — interested in joining the fight for a cure.

Money raised by the ride's thousands of participants supports the Pelotonia Fellowship Program, which provides a wide range of cancer research opportunities for Ohio State students. To date, more than 430 students have had their cancer research funded by Pelotonia.

This year, 43 undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral students received grants that are supporting their cancer research. The fellowships enable students to conduct research at Ohio State and also at cancer labs around the country and world.

"The impact of these scholarships actually goes deeper than providing students with a unique opportunity to do cancer research," says Michael Caligiuri, MD, director of The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center and CEO of the Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute.

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Creating across disciplines

Ece Karaca has been on a lifelong search to find ways her talents as a designer can help her effect social change.

The master's of fine arts in design candidate discovered how to make that happen on a worldwide scale at Ohio State.

Karaca's research holds promise as a way of determining the environmental effects of war. She's currently developing an application that could be used by countries around the world to assess the unseen damage done by armed conflict.

The native of Ankara, Turkey, connected her design skills with computer programming at Ohio State's Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design. Through this, she's learned how her art can connect to a broader audience and with a greater purpose.

"When I came to Ohio State the people I met helped me start to think in multiple ways, and it's changed how I approached my projects," says Karaca. "I want to turn my projects into experiences that can get people more involved."

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Whether you aim to treat cancer patients through movement or lift up one community by providing a healthy harvest, you’ll find the support to make it happen at Ohio State. Maggie Griffin is another student who found her place at Ohio State.

Read Maggie's Story View All Stories