Like the gut, microbes are important for a healthy vaginal ecosystem.

Like the gut, microbes are important for a healthy vaginal ecosystem. / Getty Images/Kateryna Kon/Science Photo Library

Microbes are important in the gut, skin, mouth — and in the vagina.

Postdoctoral research scientist Fatima Aysha Hussain says that unlike our gut, a healthy vaginal microbiome is likely one with a low diversity of microbes. "In the gut, the more diversity you have, the more different bacteria are there to break down different foods you're eating. But in the vaginal microbiome, we want a lower diversity state," she says, which helps lower inflammation.

Research on the vaginal microbiome has shown that people with a high diversity of microbes are more susceptible to bad health outcomes, like sexual transmitted infections, cervical cancer, pre-term birth and bacterial vaginosis, a common, uncomfortable condition where certain microbes grow more than others. Bacterial vaginosis can be hard to treat — up to 50 percent of cases come back in a matter of months and antibiotics are often ineffective long term.

Hussain is trying to change that with a vaginal microbiome transplant study. She and her team are recruiting both donors and recipients to test whether fluid from a "healthy" vaginal microbiome transferred to someone living with recurrent bacterial vaginosis can prevent the infection from coming back.

She recently completed a small safety study with promising results. Two of the four people who received a transplant not only switched from a high to a low diversity "healthy" microbiome, but "it stayed that way for up to six months," says Hussain.

She hopes that a larger study will help scientists understand the vaginal ecosystem better in order to one day design more effective therapies for bacterial vaginosis.

Learn more about the study here.

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This episode was produced by Berly McCoy, edited by Gisele Grayson and our showrunner Rebecca Ramirez and fact checked by Margaret Cirino. The audio engineers were Gilly Moon and KoTakasugi-Czernowin.