Maryland Academy of Sciences Names Hannah Zierden Outstanding Young Engineer

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From left to right: Department Chair Peter Kofinas, Hannah Zierden and her doctoral advisor, Laura Ensign from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Hannah Zierden, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, was named the Maryland Academy of Sciences’ Outstanding Young Engineer for her advancements towards specialized nanotechnologies for female reproductive health. 

Zierden’s distinction comes from her commitment to one of the most pressing and underserved fields of human medicine, where disparities in funding resources and specialized clinical trials have historically slowed new avenues to enhance women’s health. She followed the footsteps of her graduate mentor, Laura Ensign, and became the second in the department to earn this recognition.

“Many of the Maryland Academy of Sciences awardees are researchers whose work I admire and respect. I am honored to be among them, and have big shoes to fill. I hope to inspire the next generation of engineers and scientists in the coming decades,” said Zierden. 

Her pioneering work in therapies for gynecological patients began as a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University, where, after identifying inconsistencies with established models, she developed an animal model to mimic inflammation-induced preterm birth. Her work established an important tool to observe uterine contraction mechanisms via rodents, which resulted in a first-author publication in the American Journal of Pathology, and a Career Development Travel Award from the National Institutes of Health to present her discovery in the Society for Reproductive Investigation Annual Meeting in 2019.

Using this model, Zierden engineered a novel combination nanotherapy for preterm birth prevention. Her work was the first reported evidence of success in preclinical trials for a condition with no treatment approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This groundbreaking work led to two publications in Science Translational Medicine and Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology during her graduate studies. 

In her short time at Maryland, she has earned affiliations with the university's Fischell Department of Bioengineering, and the Robert E. Fischell Institute for Biomedical Devices. Looking ahead, her work seeks to understand how cells communicate in order to shy away from traditional synthetic drugs—developing biological treatments for gynecological patients that may suffer from infertility conditions, bacterial vaginosis, preterm birth and pelvic inflammatory disease, among others. She aims to bridge the gap in specialized treatments for the female reproductive tract for the generations to come. 

“As a woman and a mother of a daughter, I hope that women’s health in the coming decades isn’t at a significant disparity when compared to other medical implications. I am working to make sure that my daughter’s reproductive health won’t suffer from a lack of treatment options,” she said. 

Published May 15, 2024