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Researchers in BC Studying Vaginal Microbiome

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) –Armed with more than C$2 million ($2 million) in funding, a team of researchers in British Columbia is conducting sequencing-based studies of microorganisms in the vagina to determine what constitutes a healthy bacterial balance.

Called the Vaginal Microbiome Project, the project will look at whole bacterial communities and how they interact with each other, "which is critical to understanding how a woman keeps healthy and to identifying when something is going wrong with her reproductive system," said Deborah Money, executive director of the Women's Health Research Institute in Vancouver and associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of British Columbia, in a statement.

Money is leading the project, which is being funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, through its Canadian Microbiome Initiative, to the tune of more than C$1.7 million, and Genome British Columbia at C$581,781, for a total of C$2.3 million. The funding is for five years.

According to Money, a healthy bacterial balance is critical to preventing vaginal infections, but studying this "ecosystem" has been challenging "because it is difficult or impossible to grow some of the bacteria in the lab, and we currently have poor methods of assessing the population of microbes."

Using sequencing technology, she and her colleagues will be able to sequence hundreds of thousands of vaginal bacteria.

One area researchers will investigate is bacterial populations associated with preterm birth, which Genome BC said is a major consequence of abnormal bacterial balance in the vagina. Preterm birth rates are rising in Canada and now about 8 percent of all births in the country are preterm, which are responsible for 70 percent of newborn deaths and half of long-term adverse health problems for infants, it said.

In a recent paper, researchers found that vaginal microbial communities vary widely among women, especially between women from different ethnic backgrounds.

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