My experiences with Arthur Pilla
I first met Arthur in the 70’s when he came down to the University of Kentucky to discuss his theories with Dr. Stephen Smith, professor in the Department of Anatomy. I was a graduate student working with Smith and listened to many of these conversations that discussed the basic mechanisms underlying how electric and electromagnetic fields exerted their biological effects.
He was intrigued by the topic of my thesis since I was working on nerve cells, not on bone or cartilage as he was. I was examining the effects of DC fields generated by invasive electrodes on the growth of neurons. He suggested a more clinical approach using low level pulsed electromagnetic fields (PEMF) generated by a device from ElectroBiology Inc that he was instrumental in developing since those fields were non-invasive.
Once I did that, he was very excited to see how neurons responded and made many more visits to Lexington with more suggestions. Our collaborations continued and expanded so that we graduated to using PEMF on injured rats. More recently we chose to work on a different, but quite common clinical problem, called peripheral neuropathy.
Arthur’s goal throughout his professional life was to optimize non-invasive electromagnetic fields for curing clinical problems, and to determine the basic mechanisms involved . Even though he is no longer with us, I think he would be pleased to know that his unique ideas are still discussed and that present and future scientists will continue to develop them and test their validity. I know that I represent many colleagues and friends who will miss this dynamic person professionally and personally, and will honor him as an outstanding member of the bioelectromagnetics community.
Submitted by Betty F. Sisken, Emeritus Professor,
University of Kentucky
I knew your father very well thought the Bioelectromagnetics Society. He was always so enthusiastic and although we never collaborated on a publication we did know each other’s work quite well. Once when my mother was in terrible pain from osteoarthritis he sent me one of his devices to treat her. On another occasion he had two abstracts to present at the BEMS meeting but he could not attend as his wife was very ill and he asked me to present them for him which I was delighted to do. He was always so vibrant and full of life it is hard for me to realize he has passed. You have lost someone very special and our research field has lost someone who has made major contributions. He will be missed by many.
Dr. Frank Prato, Lawson Health Research Inst.
Nuc. Med. Dept.
St. Joseph’s Health Centre
London, Ont. N6A 4V2
Imaging Program Leader and Assistant Scientific Director, Lawson Health Research Institute, Professor, Departments of Medical Imaging, Medical BioPhysics and Physics University of Western Ontario
My sincere regrets that I cannot make it to this tribute to a great scientist / researcher and pioneer. While I never met Arthur, I heard a lot about him from Dr. Berish Strauch, and applaud his work in the field of PEMF.
Hoping to be a contributing factor in making PEMF a staple in the field of medicine.
Best in the tribute.
Assoc. Director Corporate Relations,
University of Pittsburgh
O – (412)624-8132
C – (412)807-1028
“Vision is not seeing things as they are, but as they will be “
In only 6th grade, Aaraj wrote the following essay in honor of Dr. Pilla:
Since the age of 9, I have been participating in FIRST Lego League, an international robotics competition which gives a new research topic every year based on a real world challenge. In 4th grade, focusing on the potential of biomedical engineering to benefit Alzheimer’s patients, our team developed solutions to help seniors cope with the disease symptoms.
Two years later, when tasked with solving a problem faced by seniors, we chose to extend our research. I found myself in the midst of purple flowers, banners, and balloons at an Alzheimer’s walk in Reston. It was pouring, chilly, and getting dark. I was determined not to turn back. “Race to the Cure,” the walk had been branded. But I did not want this disease to claim another host.
It was this moment when our team realized the truth of the phrase, “prevention is better than a cure.” It was also around this time when we first came into contact with Dr. Arthur Pilla, professor of biomedical engineering at Columbia University. He was well known for his scientific research. While researching potential causes for Alzheimer’s, one which stood out was inflammation of the brain causing plaques and tangles. Struggling to understand the language of scientific studies on the Internet, we reached out to several professors researching inflammation. However, none were able to provide both the time and patience to explain such a complex topic to a group of 6th graders. Except Dr. Pilla.
Our first communication began with an email exchange, in which Dr. Pilla explained the relationship between inflammation and Alzheimer’s in a comprehendible way. During a visit to northern Virginia, Dr. Pilla graciously found the time to meet with our team, and introduced us to a new upcoming technology called Pulsed Electromagnetic Fields (PEMF), which have signals between radio and microwaves in the electromagnetic spectrum. He explained how PEMF can reduce inflammation at the cellular level in humans. This application could be used to prevent or delay Alzheimer’s. It was not an easy process for us to understand at the young age of 12. And yet, Dr. Pilla’s patience at no point wavered. Even after explaining the same concept for the fifth time, a smile remained on his face, displaying his joy for sharing his knowledge with us.
Every meeting with Dr. Pilla felt like a meeting with the president or a famous celebrity and we waited eagerly for it. Dr. Pilla had become our role model. He supported us every step throughout our research journey, even going so far as to drive down from his home state to attend our regional tournament in northern Virginia and then the state tournament in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Just his presence was encouraging and inspiring enough. Now, 6 years after my first year of robotics, I mentor local FLL teams. Recently, a student asked me who influenced me the most during my FLL journey. I did not have to hesitate even for a second to come up with an answer. It was the mentor who I strive to be, Dr. Pilla.
- Aaraj V., 6th grade elementary school student
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