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Women's Health Education Program Scholars' Projects

The Vaginal Microbiome and Reproductive Health

Brittany Ashe, WHEP Scholar

WHEP Scholar Brittany Ashe

Until recently, knowledge of the human microbiome was limited due to the inability to successfully culture the majority of bacterial species in the laboratory. However, research focusing on the microbiome has exploded over the last decade. With the advent of 16S rRNA gene sequencing, scientists and clinicians are now able to directly analyze biological samples without the need for cultures.

In 2008, the NIH commissioned the Human Microbiome Project to characterize the composition, diversity, and function of the healthy, adult microbiome. Since then, numerous studies have furthered this research into the role microbiota play in specific body states such as disease, pregnancy, and obesity. Research on the vaginal microbiome has provided insights into STI prevention, preterm birth, and bacterial vaginosis. Yet much more remains to be understood.

While we are able to characterize more and more species of bacteria, the next frontier might be understanding how all of these disparate species work together to create a functional microbiome. Even once we understand population dynamics in more detail, questions remain about how to best harness this information to create therapies that can meaningfully impact women and treat disease. This review will focus on the vaginal microbiome and its role in healthy adults, pregnancy, and assisted reproductive technologies.

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