The delicate balance of microbes in the vagina can vary greatly between healthy women, according to a new study led by the University of Maryland School of Medicine's Institute for Genome Sciences. Researchers hope further study will lead to personalized reproductive medicine for women, allowing doctors to tailor each woman's treatment and health maintenance strategies to her individual microbial make-up.
The study, published online the week of May 31, 2010, in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, used genomics-based technologies to examine the vaginal microbes in 400 women. The work, a collaboration between the Institute for Genome Sciences and researchers at the University of Idaho, is the first in-depth, large-scale molecular characterization of vaginal microbial communities. The research is an example of an emerging field of genomics, the study of the human microbiome. The human microbiome refers to all of the microbes that live on and in the human body. Scientists believe these tiny organisms interact closely with the human genome and play a critical role in human health and disease. In the vagina, these communities of microbes play a critical role in maintaining and promoting a woman's health and in protecting her against disease. Vaginal microbes provide protection mainly by producing lactic acid to create an acidic environment that is hostile to certain harmful microbes or infection.
"The surprising finding here is that some women can be healthy while still harboring different communities of microbes," said Jacques Ravel, Ph.D., associate professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and associate director of the Institute for Genome Sciences. "Even microbes that were previously believed to be detrimental to a woman's health seem to be part of a normal ecosystem in some women, according to this study. Further research is needed to establish the function of these
|Contact: Karen Buckelew|
University of Maryland Medical Center