Vaginitis: Research Activities and Scientific Advances

Through its intramural and extramural organizational units, the NICHD conducts and supports a broad range of research on vaginitis and related conditions. Brief descriptions of this research are included below.

Institute Activities and Advances

Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)

NICHD researchers within the Division of Intramural Population Health Research (DIPHR) are using previously and newly collected data to study various aspects of abnormal genital tract flora. The project's purpose is to explore various aspects of the association between BV and pregnancy outcome and to understand the various behavioral and biological factors associated with the acquisition, maintenance, and remission of BV.

Previously collected data sets include the Vaginal Infections and Prematurity Study (1984–1989), in which approximately 14,000 pregnant women had detailed genital tract microbiological evaluations done at 23 to 26 weeks' gestation, answered detailed questionnaires, and had a variety of pregnancy outcomes assessed.

Newly collected data include the Longitudinal Study of Vaginal Flora, in which 3,620 nonpregnant women underwent quarterly study visits for 1 year. These visits included vaginal Gram stains, limited cultures, and detailed questioning regarding a variety of behavioral factors.

Investigating the Links between BV and Vitamin D

Researchers supported by the NICHD  Pregnancy and Perinatology Branch (PPB) are exploring the idea that vitamin D deficiency is a significant risk factor for development of BV in healthy adult women. A link between vitamin D deficiency and increased risk of BV might help to explain racial disparities in the prevalence of BV. Identifying risk factors for BV that potentially could be modified may provide an opportunity to reduce its prevalence and associated morbidities. (Source: NIH RePORTER, 1K23HD065844-01A1)

Lactobacillus and Its Phages in BV

This joint U.S.-India study, also supported by the  PPB, investigated risk factors for BV among reproductive age women in Mysore, India, and sought to identify and to characterize Lactobacillus and Lactobacillus phages among this population. This study, the first of its kind ever to be conducted in India, will lay the foundation to test the hypothesis that bacteriophage might be responsible for causing BV. (Source: NIH RePORTER, 5R03HD055117-02)

Effects of Aspirin in Gestation and Reproduction (EAGeR) Study

The association between BV and anovulation, implantation failure, and pregnancy loss will be explored as part of the EAGeR Study, which is a multisite, randomized placebo-controlled clinical trial under the purview of the NICHD’s DIPHR. The study is designed to evaluate the effect of daily low-dose aspirin on live-birth rates and has numerous secondary objectives.

Oral & Vaginal Microbes, Human Genotype, and Preterm Birth

This project, which is supported by the NICHD PPB, aims to understand the role of microbes in the vaginal and oral cavities in triggering preterm birth and how this role may be modified by human genotype and known behavioral risk factors. Investigators will explore the joint effects of vaginal and oral microbes on preterm birth. (Source: NIH RePORTER, 5R01HD038098-07)

Investigating How Genital Mucus Secretions Trap Pathogens

Researchers supported by the Contraceptive Discovery and Development Branch (CDDB) also seek to clarify how mucus secretions from women with healthy vaginal flora help protect against pathogens and how abnormal mucus secretions caused by BV increase susceptibility to a broad range of viral, bacterial, and protozoal pathogens. Among the study goals, the protective roles of lactic acid and lactate anions will be investigated. The results may support the development of vaginal products and microbicides that reinforce the protective effects of lactic acid. (Source: NIH RePORTER, 5R01HD062844-03)

Vaginal Ring for Preventing Bacterial Vaginosis

Other researchers supported by the NICHD CDDB are developing a prototype vaginal ring that releases lactic acid to prevent BV ("BVP-Ring"). The project builds on research findings that lactic acid potentially inactivates a broad range of bacteria associated with BV. The ring will release lactic acid at a rate comparable to that produced by healthy Lactobacilli and thus will not make the vaginal environment too acidic. Researchers anticipate the ring to be useful for women with frequent episodes of symptomatic BV and for preventing BV during pregnancy. (Source: NIH RePORTER, 1R41HD066938-01)

Molecular Pathways of Inflammatory and Immune Responses to Trichomoniasis vaginalis

Researchers supported by the NICHD CDDB have made significant contributions to understanding immune evasion mechanisms exploited by T. vaginalis. Specifically, their research has focused on lipophosphoglycan, the main cell surface glycoconjugate of the parasite, and its role in triggering the vaginal mucosal inflammatory response. (Source: NIH RePORTER, 5R21HD054451-02; PMID: 18604640)

Other Activities and Advances

  • The PPB-supported Maternal-Fetal Medicine Units (MFMU) Network clinical trial, conducted in 1996–2000, screened approximately 30,000 women for BV and trichomoniasis. Those who were positive were randomized to treatment with metronidazole or placebo. This research contributed to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendation not to screen pregnant women for BV.