What if? It's the question that sparks all science experiments. So when two local electrical engineering students looked deep in the brain for answers – their results opened up possibilities for patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Phillip Arteaga, undergraduate student, Purdue University Calumet: “If you could delay a disease like dementia or Alzheimer’s, or just have the brain be able to retain more, that’s a huge improvement.”
It’s a huge problem the world’s leading scientists are embracing – and so are these hopeful minds in this tiny lab at Purdue University Calumet.
Phillip Arteaga: “Basically our experiment consisted of applying a 1.2 milliamp to the left pre-frontal lobe of the brain.”
It’s not a new concept -- neurostimulation has been used to improve function in patients with MS and Parkinson's. But can it boost memory? That's the question electrical engineering students Phillip Arteaga and Wen Chao Lu have set out to answer. But it’s more than a science project for Phillip – he jumped on board with a personal passion.
Phillip Arteaga: “Alzheimer’s runs in my family. Both my grandparents have had it, and I saw the effects. It’s just horrible.”
The project began as Wen Chao Lu's graduate thesis at Purdue University Calumet. First, he designed a circuit that would deliver a 1.2 milliamps -- a current deemed safe by university advisors – to the left pre-frontal cortex of the brain – the area responsible for language and memory. A simple cap houses the battery and electrode pads. Fourteen fellow students signed on to test it out. They were given a memory task.
Wen Chao Lu, graduate student, Purdue University Calumet: “Here is a test for the Chinese characters. You can see the character and four options for that.”
They learned 120 Chinese characters then were given a multiple choice quiz.
Wen Chao Lu: “It was like a memory game.”
Half the participants received stimulation as they studied then recalled the characters over the course of 50 minutes, each week for eight weeks. The other half served as a control.
Phillip Arteaga: “We found by week three there was an exponential growth rate. People with the current, on average, learned better than people without the current. Maybe in 10 years we can get it down to a science, where we could see exactly how we’re affecting the brain, even more how we’re improving it. Who knows? If we can delay the disease or just do something where it pushes it back a little bit, or to increase the ability of the brain … the advances, you can’t even imagine how big it would be.”