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W&L’s Jon Erickson Part of Coalition that Receives Major Medical Research Grant The engineering professor will perform research related to gastrointestinal motility over the next three years in New Zealand.

Jon-Erickson-scaled-600x400 W&L’s Jon Erickson Part of Coalition that Receives Major Medical Research Grant
Jon Erickson, Professor of Engineering at Washington and Lee University, is part of a coalition that has received a five-year grant through the Health Research Council of New Zealand to perform medical research through the Auckland Bioengineering Institute (ABI) at the University of Auckland in New Zealand.

The funding officially began on Oct. 1, 2023, and will require Erickson to serve in residence in New Zealand for three years beginning July 1, 2024. He will return to his post at W&L for the start of the 2027-28 academic year.

“I’m grateful to W&L for allowing me to do pursue this once-in-a-career opportunity,” said Erickson. “The fact that we have been able to pioneer this research is a direct result of being supported by the university, and I also want to emphasize that the contributions of W&L students have had a direct and substantial impact on the speed with which this research has advanced.”

The grant will fund varied research that includes disorders involving the stomach and colon, as well as post-surgical recovery. Erickson is an expert in the field of signal processing with applications to gastrointestinal motility and he will lead an international research consortium that focuses on disorders involving the colon. He began this work more than 15 years ago while serving as a postdoctoral research fellow at Vanderbilt University. Erickson has continued to advance his research since joining the W&L faculty in 2009, most notably through W&L’s Summer Research Scholars and Faculty Sabbatical Leave programs. Both programs allowed him to establish a direct relationship with a team of researchers from the ABI.

“Our work is focused on taking the biomedical tools we built over the past decade-plus and translating them into the clinical care setting,” said Erickson. “The hope is that our sensors can determine when, where and how the gut may be misfiring in a variety of disorders involving the colon. Our technology can see the rhythmic activity of the colon and will presumably produce better diagnostics that lead to a better treatment pathway.”

Erickson noted that the next steps in his research are to get these biomedical tools out of the lab and put them into practice, specifying that the goal is to assist patients in feeling better on an accelerated timeline. He hopes to continue to involve W&L students with his research onsite, potentially creating an engineering capstone project.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for me to pursue a passion project, but I will miss my daily interactions with the W&L community, especially working with our outstanding students,” he said.

Erickson holds a Bachelor of Science in physics from Harvey Mudd College and earned a Master of Science in aeronautics and a Ph.D. in bioengineering from the California Institute of Technology.

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