Vaginal health is an important topic of conversation, but many myths and misconceptions still exist. In this article, we’ll explore recent research that highlights recent work in the field of vaginal microbiome research.
Read on to learn more.
The microbiome is a community of organisms, including bacteria, fungi, and viruses, coexisting in a particular environment. The vaginal microbiome is one of many microbiomes that live in the body, such as those in the gastrointestinal tract, skin, and mouth.
The vagina’s microbiome is unique because it is designed to have low bacterial diversity and is dominated by Lactobacillus species, which promote lactic acid production to keep the vaginal pH in a normal acidic range (3.8 – 4.5).
This environment serves to preserve the structure and function of the vagina and prevent disease. Dysbiosis in the vaginal microbiome can lead to a host of pathologies and conditions, including bacterial vaginosis (BV), a topic attracting clinical research focus.
Dr. Caroline Mitchell, MD, an associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive biology at Harvard Medical School and the director of the vulvovaginal disorders program at Boston’s Mass General Hospital, notes in Vogue that certain patterns of bacteria are linked to higher risk for preterm birth, acquisition of sexually transmitted diseases, and persistence of infections like HPV.
There has been a tremendous amount of work done to try to understand the correlation between the vaginal microbiome and incidence of preterm birth. Dr. Mitchell also notes that humans are unique among mammals in terms of having a Lactobacillus-dominant vaginal microbiome.
This means there are no animal models for the human vaginal microbiome, making it difficult to study. Dr. Mitchell also shares views on probiotics for vaginal health. She raises her concerns about off-the-shelf vaginal probiotics.
According to Dr. Mitchell, many ‘healthy’ vaginal products on the shelf include the Lactobacillus species which dominates the healthy vaginal microbiome, L. crispatus. However, the L. crispatus strain present in those products is often not derived from the vaginal microbiome, but is from the gut. This difference is important, as species can evolve specialties that make them highly suitable for survival in their niche environment. Gut-derived L. crispatus is unlikely to have the same vaginal benefits as vaginally-derived L. crispatus.
Dr. Mitchell is not alone in studying the vaginal microbiome. Dr. Jacques Ravel, a researcher at the Institute for Genome Sciences at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, has developed a unique catalogue of nonredundant genes from the human vagina.
The catalogue, named VIRGO, is therefore of high importance in strain-level resolution of vaginal microorganisms, and in defining the microbial functions in vaginal health and disease. Overall, the work of Dr. Ravel has the potential to illuminate which strains are healthy for the vaginal environment, and which functions render them healthy.
Altogether, research is working to better understand the vaginal microbiome and develop new tests and treatments to improve women’s health. Microbiome research may help us better understand and treat our body – and our genital health is no different.
Unlock the power of the microbiome with CosmosID
At CosmosID, we provide state-of-the-art microbiome sequencing services that can aid in a multitude of clinical research needs. Our platform can help researchers unlock the potential of the microbiome in a variety of applications.
We provide comprehensive data analysis services, including gene and strain-level profiling, as well as species identification, providing insights into bacterial composition, structure, and functions in health and disease.
Contact us today to learn more about how our sequencing services can support your research.
Want more like this? Sign-up to our newsletter to get the latest news from CosmosID: