W&L Engineering Professor Publishes Articles in Two Renowned Journals Jon Erickson’s papers are part of an ongoing research project studying non-invasive gastric mapping techniques.
Jon Erickson, professor of engineering at Washington and Lee University, recently published two papers regarding advances in non-invasive gastrointestinal electrical mapping techniques.
The first paper, “Validation of noninvasive body-surface gastric mapping for detecting gastric slow-wave spatiotemporal features by simultaneous serosal mapping in porcine,” was featured on the cover of the October 2022 issue of The American Journal of Physiology. The second paper, co-authored with Emily Hassid ’22 and Elen Stepanyan ’22, is titled “Comparison of dry and wet electrodes for detecting gastrointestinal activity patterns from body surface electrical recordings” and was published in the Annals of Biomedical Engineering in January 2023.
Erickson is an expert in the field of signal processing with applications to gastrointestinal motility. “Validation of noninvasive body-surface gastric mapping” was written in collaboration with the Auckland Bioengineering Institute at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. “Comparison of dry and wet electrodes” stems from research conducted at W&L.
“I feel very fortunate to have worked with such an exceptional group of surgeons, doctors, and biomedical engineers as well as outstanding undergraduate research students during this process,” Erickson said. “With a multidisciplinary team, everyone brings their own angles and backgrounds that are crucial to make projects like this work.”
The purpose of Erickson’s research is to develop non-invasive biomedical tools to monitor motility of the stomach and colon, which may facilitate the diagnosis and phenotyping of gastrointestinal abnormalities. When Erickson began collaborating with the Auckland Bioengineering Institute in 2009, very little was known about the electrical conduction system of the stomach. Over the course of a decade, the research team developed the instruments, technology, and algorithms to successfully detect the electrical waves that move through the stomach, first using surgically implanted electrodes and then with non-invasive electrode arrays placed on the skin surface like a big band-aid. Erickson’s primary role in the project was developing the signal processing techniques to pluck out the microvolt-level signals generated internally by the stomach’s electrical waves.
The next phase of research, explored in “Comparison of dry and wet electrodes,” addressed the time limits on studies because of people’s potential sensitivity to the wet electrodes. The study found that dry electrodes are just as effective at recording gastrointestinal electrical signals, which opens the possibility of being able to study gastrointestinal activity over multiple days, instead of just in three- to four-hour increments. W&L students made valuable contributions to designing and conducting the study with human subjects, as well as providing unique insights during the analysis phase.
“It’s exciting to work on something that’s brand new, and the student insights are so important,” Erickson said. “It has been a delight to work with students who are deeply engaged with the research and helping pioneer this field. Their roles have been crucial to our recent contributions and collective success, and it is very rewarding to see their skill and confidence rapidly grow in the lab.”
“I was delighted to have so many students interested and deeply engaged with the research. Their roles have been crucial to making this work, and I hope they’ve had a good experience with it, too.”
Erickson’s collaboration with students is representative of the hands-on and personalized education W&L provides. In addition to conducting real-world research, they also participated in the academic journal review and publication process. Both Hassid and Stepanyan have carried their research experience to postgraduate opportunities, with Hassid pursuing a master’s degree in chemical engineering at Columbia University and Stepanyan pursuing a master’s degree in engineering and management at Dartmouth University.
For Erickson, the next step in this ongoing research project is to begin conducting overnight studies of the gastrointestinal system using dry electrodes and continue advancing the diagnostic capabilities of the technology.
“In the near future, we plan to apply this technology to compare and contrast motility patterns in healthy people versus those with a known gastrointestinal abnormality. This is a magical moment in the research field because we finally have the research tools in hand to attempt this study for the first time,” Erickson said.
Erickson joined the W&L faculty in 2009 and currently serves as the faculty advisor for the Engineering Community Development club on campus. He received his bachelor’s degree in physics from Harvey Mudd College and his doctorate in bioengineering from the California Institute of Technology.
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