Understanding the intricacies of the vaginal microbiome

Towards diagnostic improvements in female sexual and reproductive health.

Advances in analytical technologies are providing increasing evidence that micro-organisms (bacteria, viruses and fungi - collectively termed a ‘microbiome’) that live on or within our body are important in maintaining human health.

The microbiome is considered the next major source and target of new drugs for improving health and treating diseases - these microbes contribute to metabolism, protect us against pathogens and can influence other physiologic functions. Our work is amongst the first to recognise the potential importance of the microbes that colonise the human vagina. We believe that by targeting these microbiota, we have the potential to influence a range of health outcomes that could see revolutionary improvements made to female sexual and reproductive health.

Bacterial vaginosis (BV, or vaginal dysbiosis) is an imbalance of microbial communities in the vagina and is often associated with:

  • Inflammation of the lining (a pro-inflammatory mucosal environment).
  • An increased risk of acquiring sexually transmitted infections (including HIV, HSV-2, gonorrhoea, chlamydia).
  • Adverse reproductive health outcomes (including miscarriage, pelvic inflammatory disease, preterm delivery, low birth weight, infertility, preterm / premature rupture of membranes, chorioamnionitis and intra-amniotic infections, idiopathic infertility, decrease in success of live births from in vitro fertilization).

Currently diagnosis of BV lacks precision and accuracy as the symptoms vary widely and depend on the perception of both patients and clinicians. Importantly, BV is often asymptomatic for as many as 50% of women, however the associated risks remain the same.

Given the global burden of BV and its associated pathologies there is a clear need to understand what represents an ‘optimal’ microbiome. Therefore, this research project is aimed at characterising vaginal microbiome in healthy reproductive-age women. This is a crucial step which will provide the baseline that can then be used to determine when the optimal microbiome profile is shifted towards dysbiosis. In addition, given that obesity poses serious threats to women’s health, the effect of adiposity on the vaginal microbiome will be examined. Understanding vaginal microbiome ‘health’ in relation to obesity may impart further implications toward the growing list of consequences and risk factors imposed by excess weight.

Swinburne research is transforming vaginal and reproductive health

The research could influence a range of health outcomes that could see revolutionary improvements made to female sexual and reproductive health.

Associated researchers

Go to Dr Nina Eikelis page Dr Nina Eikelis

View Nina's full profile

Go to Dr Simon Cook page Dr Simon Cook

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Go to Prof Simon Moulton page Prof Simon Moulton

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