Ashley Galanti develops a sensor to help people with epilepsy
It all started in a high school physics class in Duluth, Georgia, when Ashley Galanti was given the assignment to create something to help sick people. His mother and brother are epileptic. So she designed a portable case containing a mouth guard used to protect people during seizures.
“It pushed the upper jaw forward and opened the airway to prevent people from breaking their teeth, biting their tongue or choking during a seizure,” Galanti said.
She showcased the project at the 2017 Gwinnett Regional Science and Engineering Show and won third place. However, “people were like, well, you can’t really put the mouthguard in your mouth when you’re already having a seizure.”
And that could have been the end.
But Galanti is not the kind of person to give up. If she doesn’t know something, she sets out to learn it. Her journey has taken her down unexpected paths, including delving into electrical engineering, adding an additional major to her journalism degree at the University of Georgia, and securing an internship at a dog training center in Georgia. alert.
Galanti decided to find a way to detect seizures early so his idea could be put to use. “I was very lucky,” she said. “One of the only seizure alert dog locations in the country was only an hour away.” She worked with the folks at Canine Assistance to create a new dog-friendly device. When dogs sensed an impending seizure in their human companion, they could click a button on a device, alerting the human to insert the mouth guard.
It was a success. In 2018, she took her to the Gwinnett County Regional Science/Engineering Fair and then to the Georgia State Science/Engineering Fair, where she won several awards, including the Georgia Engineering Foundation Award of Excellence for Impact on Better Living. But when she pitched her idea to the University of Georgia, one developer thought there might not be enough alert dogs to get the device tested. Another dead end? No, Galanti decided, just more to learn.
This time, the problem was how to develop a sensor that could replicate a dog’s seizure-detection abilities. “I came to UGA as a journalism major because I’ve always loved writing and talking to people. But I realized what I could do with the device I had created if I had more engineering knowledge.
At that time, she was rather self-taught. “It was me going to Google to look up things like what a circuit is because I had no idea anything.” She decided to tack on a major in electrical engineering to learn what she would need to know to continue working on her device.
She enrolled in a course at UGA’s Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities and worked with professors Mark Haidekker and Ramaraja Ramasamy to build the device. “We are working on creating the very first sensor capable of using chemoreception,” she said. The idea is to detect the 11 volatile organic compounds that people release through their skin, sweat and saliva before a seizure.
“I anticipate it will be an armband that you wear with a sensor placed under your armpit,” she said. “It’ll be really light so people wearing it won’t really notice it.”
The device will alert the wearer, but Galanti also wants to integrate it with Bluetooth to connect it to an app to alert family members and/or emergency services. “It would be really revolutionary in helping people who are unable to stop their seizures from happening, especially when doing something like driving, swimming or cooking.”
She will participate in the CURO assistantship program for the remainder of her undergraduate studies. “Then I will have to determine if I should pursue the project to a PhD/Masters,” she said. She is also considering a stint as a solutions engineer after graduation. “It’s the perfect mix of my two majors. He is someone who has the technical knowledge of an electrical engineer and who also enjoys talking to people and the marketing world.
What she does next isn’t an obvious decision, as Galanti is just as passionate about her engineering as she is about her co-major in journalism and her minor in Spanish. “I like to say that my journalism helps me identify problems, my engineering helps me solve those problems, and my Spanish allows me to do that across different cultures.”
Galanti is also interning at Caterpillar for her Capstone Senior Design project, created a photojournalism documentary about addiction, and was selected to cover the 2021 Paralympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, and the 2022 Winter Olympics in Tokyo. Beijing, China, as part of a program with Grady College. journalism and mass communication. (The latter could not happen due to COVID.)
Break time ? It’s not really a thing for her. “Honestly? If you’ve seen my schedule, I schedule every 30 minutes to a T,” she laughed.
It’s a safe bet that she’ll be all-in on whatever she ends up doing. “I want to do something to help people in a way that’s never been done before,” she said.