Date of Award


Degree Name

MS in Biomedical Engineering


Biomedical and General Engineering


Trevor Cardinal


Since the 1900s, the number of deaths attributable to cardiovascular disease has steadily risen. With the advent of antihypertensive drugs and non-invasive surgical procedures, such as intravascular stenting, these numbers have begun to level off. Despite this trend, the number of patients diagnosed with some form of cardiovascular disease has only increased. By 2030, prevalence of coronary heart disease is expected to increase approximately by 18% in the United States. By 2050, prevalence of peripheral arterial occlusive disease is expected to increase approximately by 98% in the U.S. No single drug or surgical intervention offers a complete solution to these problems. Thus, a multi-faceted regimen of lifestyle changes, medication, and device or surgical interventions is usually necessary. A potential adjunct therapy and cost-effective solution for treating cardiovascular disease that has been overlooked is neurostimulation.

Recent studies show that using neurostimulation techniques, such as transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), can help to reduce ischemic pain, lower blood pressure, increase blood flow to the periphery, and decrease systemic vascular resistance. The mechanisms by which these hemodynamic changes occur is still under investigation. The primary aim of this thesis is to elucidate these mechanisms through a thorough synthesis of the existing literature on this subject. Neurostimulation, specifically TENS, is thought to modulate both the metaboreflex and norepinephrine release from sympathetic nerve terminals.

To test the hypothesis that TENS increases local blood flow, decreases mean arterial pressure, and decreases cutaneous vascular resistance compared to placebo, in which the electrodes are attached but no electrical stimulation is applied, a protocol was developed to test the effect of neurostimulation on healthy subjects. Implementation of this protocol in a pilot study will determine if neurostimulation causes significant changes in blood flow using the most relevant perfusion measurement instrumentation. Before conducting this study, pre-pilot comparison studies of interferential current therapy (IFC) versus TENS, low frequency (4 Hz) TENS versus high frequency (100 Hz) TENS, and electrode placement on the back versus the forearm were conducted. The only statistically significant difference found was that the application of IFC on the back decreased the reperfusion time, meaning that the time required to reach the average baseline perfusion unit value after occlusion decreased. Further pre-pilot work investigating these different modalities and parameters is necessary to ensure that favorable hemodynamic changes can be detected in the pilot study.