All about the Vaginal Flora.
What’s something that’s in you, all over you, and is your signature ?
It digests your food, affects your mood, and provides a fighting snood?
It’s your microbiome. We harbor trillions of microbes in our bodies. These microbes have a profound role in human health and every one of our microbiomes are unique. The microbiome is the genetic material found in the microbes that live on and in the human body, including yeasts, bacteria, and viruses. Since the Human Microbiome Project started in 2007 and completed in 2015, there has been an exponential understanding of microbiomes and the importance of them in our wellbeing. studies have shown that there is a monumental amount of diversity of communities that live in different sites in our body from our mouths to our gut. You probably might have heard about the Gut Microbiome ( if you haven’t, I recommend you to read my friend, Sofia’s Article on the Gut Microbiome). Our Microbiomes influence everything in our bodies from our appetite, mood, and all the way to our sleep. But did you know there’s also a thing such as the vaginal microbiome?
What’s the Vaginal Microbiome?
Our vaginal microbiome or usually called the vaginal flora is the community of microbes that live in the vagina. Okay, I know this may sound kind of weird or “gross’ especially when we correlate the word bacteria with a very intimate part of our body. But it’s completely normal! They’re normal organisms that coexist symbiotically with us. We coexist with nonpathogenic (“good” bacteria) as well as pathogenic (“bad bacteria” that are only harmful until some external factors like illnesses or stress take over and requisite them) bacteria all the time.
WE are covered with bacteria all the time.
The vaginal microbiome undergoes shifts throughout a womxn’s life and concurs with lifestyle and hormonal changes. From the first week of life to puberty, reproductive years, and even menopause. The dynamics of these communities also vary during the menstrual cycle. But only in recent years, our understanding of the vaginal microbiome has started to broaden with researchers using techniques such as the cultivation-independent methods analyzing the 16S ribosomal RNA gene sequences.
Womxn have a diversity of microbiota but the majority is usually dominated by the species of Lactobacillus. They’re commonly identified as the hallmark of a normal or healthy vagina. The well-known paradigm we know is that good bacteria produce lactic acid. That creates a low pH environment in the vagina. Maintaining a healthy diversity of microbes and a low pH level is crucial for our health as it fights against certain pathogens like the Neisseria gonorrhoeae — the bacteria that causes Gonorrhea, an STD.
But why do we need to know about this?
The vaginal microbiome protects us from invading microbes. Ones that are implied in over 30 major women’s health conditions and are tied with infertility. To name a few:
- Bacterial Vaginosis: BV is the disruption of the equilibrium of the normal vaginal ecosystem. This condition is a socially debilitating condition that affects 1/10 of the global female population annually. It’s also an independent risk factor of contracting STIs, HIV, and the development of pelvic inflammatory disease.
- Urinary Tract Infection: UTIs, something that 50–60% of women will get in their lifetime, is an infection caused by bad bacteria that affect the urinary tract. Research shows that women with BC have a higher UTI risk than women with lactobacilli dominated vagina,
- Preterm birth: or premature birth has associations with immature lungs, difficulty regulating body temperature, poor feeding, slow weight gain, and also risks the life of the baby and mother. PTB is the leading cause of death for children under five.
- Infertility: Approximately 1 in 8 couples are affected by infertility each year. Bacterial Vaginosis infection is associated with infertility and is said to be an underestimated cause of unexplained infertility.
And so much more.
Bridging the gender gap in women’s health research.
There’s still a lack of research done about the vaginal microbiome considering the impacts and insights it may bring to women’s health. Research about the human microbiome itself only started in 2007 and The Juno Study started in 2019. The Juno Study is playing the part of collecting data that we need to power up the health research with a rich and representative repository of vaginal microbiomes. Why? Because the vaginal microbiome differs between ethnicities, age, diet, environment, etc. But there’s still so much to be decoded about the vaginal microbiome.
Vaginal testing has existed for a pretty long time but they haven’t used genetic sequencing to really deeply understand the vagina. Next-generation genetic sequencing and the use of bioinformatics can enable researchers to have a better and comprehensive idea of what’s actually there. This next-generation genome sequencing hundreds or thousands of DNA segments simultaneously and allowed genomes to be read in a fraction of time. This can unravel and lead us to give us a deeper understanding of how the microbes in our vagina affect women’s health & wellbeing.
Vaginal Microbiomes x AI ?!
With the Human Microbiome Project being the start of having a deeper understanding of the microbiome — with explosions of research, work, and commercialization of the gut and soil microbiome — someone was shocked that the vaginal microbiome has been relatively ignored. That person is Hana Janebdar. Hana is the Founder and CEO of Juno Bio. Juno is a startup backed by Illumina & Entrepreneur First that focuses on giving women a better understanding of their vaginal microbiome while also collecting data to further research into women’s health.
How does it work?
Juno will send you a test kit where you can simply pass a q-tip-like swab across your vagina and return it to Juno for analysis. Then, they use machine learning and state-of-the-art bioinformatics to analyze and best predict how you can manipulate the microbiome. You can then access your results in your profile online with a dashboard explaining your current condition.
Hana mentioned that it really shocked her because the microbiomes the vaginal microbiome was the most readily accessible and the most readily associated with the conditions that could improve women’s lives and there were so many women that have these conditions. She realized that she needed to fix this problem. Just like the gut microbiome which has reached so much understanding this year with an approved microbial intervention for the gut, the vaginal microbiome can also come to that stage.
With Juno adding repositories of data utilizing gene sequences and metadata, they can create the richest research of data to the growth of understanding vaginal health and related issues. Juno is advised by Dr. Gregory Buck, Ph.D., the principal investigator on the Vaginal Human Microbiome Project (VaHMP) and the Multi Omic Microbiome Study Pregnancy Initiative (MOMS PI) — two studies that were part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health Human Microbiome Project.
Progress like these will not only contribute to bridging the gender gap in healthcare but also change the stigma around women’s health and vaginal wellness for the better.
Congrats you made it to the end! Thank you so much for reading until the end. If you enjoyed reading my article, don’t forget to give it 50 claps. Or else….. just kidding give it the number of claps it deserves ❤
♀ If you liked this article, check out my other article on Gender Disparities in Healthcare and the Rise of Femtech
I’m Liesl, a 16-year-old AI enthusiast from Jakarta, Indonesia 🇮🇩 interested in leveraging emerging technologies to improve people’s lives and solve the world’s biggest problems 🌏 I’m mostly interested in the fields of femtech, music, and gender equity !
Bacterial vaginosis: a cause of infertility? - PubMed
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a common disorder of the genital tract in women characterized by an alteration of the…