Professor Myers wins NSF CAREER award

Kristin Myers, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, has recently won a prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award. Her CAREER project, “Growth and Remodeling of the Uterine Cervix during Pregnancy,” is focused on exploring the mechanics of the cervix and determining the biomechanical mechanisms that cause preterm birth (PTB). Despite advances in prenatal care, the rate of PTB (birth before 37 weeks of gestation) both in the United States and around the world remains high. “This shows how little is known about the causes of PTB, which is a leading cause of death in children under five,” says Myers, who is also planning to use her award to train the next generation of female engineers interested in improving women's health.

Researchers know that the cervix, a cylindrical organ located at the base of the uterus, is a critical mechanical barrier that maintains the baby to full term. At the time of delivery, hormonal cues instruct the cervix to remodel, soften, and dilate to create a safe passage for the baby. If this cervical tissue remodeling timing is off and the cervix prematurely dilates, then the baby is born too soon. Up to now, there have been no engineering tools to characterize normal and abnormal cervical softening, and so researchers have very limited understanding of this cervical remodeling process.  

Myers plans to address this knowledge gap by determining the driving factors that cause premature cervical remodeling and the mechanical dysfunction of the cervix. Her study will measure the mechanical and biochemical property changes of the cervix under various hormonal cues and develop a set of equations that can predict the mechanical function of the cervix during pregnancy. 

“Receiving the NSF CAREER award is a huge honor, and an important recognition of this problem so many women face, even in developed countries,” she says. “My study is an essential step toward the development of rational therapies to prevent preterm birth and I hope it will bring an improved understanding to the underlying causes of preterm birth related to cervical dysfunction.”

—by Holly Evarts


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