The Vaginal Microbiome Group Initiative, also known as the “VOGUE” team, is a diverse group of scientists and clinicians from across Canada, united in their goal of capitalizing on new advances in genomic sequencing technology to improve women’s health. The VOGUE team is part of a multimillion dollar national program known as the Canadian Microbiome Initiative, sponsored by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Teams of researchers from across the country are analyzing the composition, distribution and functions of microbes in different parts of the body, and probing the links between these microbes and disease.
The VOGUE team, lead by Dr. Deborah Money of the Women’s Health Research Institute and the University of British Columbia, Dr. Janet Hill and Dr. Sean Hemmingsen at the University of Saskatchewan, Dr. Gregor Reid at the University of Western Ontario, and Dr. Alan Bocking at the University of Toronto, along with many other coinvestigators and collaborators from across Canada, will be conducting pioneering research into what kinds of microbes reside in a healthy vagina.
The healthy vagina is host to millions of microorganisms, including many types of “good” bacteria that protect against invading pathogens, and help to promote healthy pregnancy. Until now, clinicians and scientists have had relatively unsophisticated tools at their disposal for studying this critically important ecosystem. It has only been with recent advances in genomic sequencing technology that researchers have been able to uncover and truly understand the sheer number and diversity of organisms that inhabit the vagina of healthy women. Essentially, from a single swab taken from the vagina, we are now able to sequence a section of the DNA from each type of bacteria present, and use this unique DNA “fingerprint” to identify them. Knowing exactly which organisms are found in healthy women will allow us to develop new tools for diagnosing abnormal organisms, and better ways to treat infections and promote reproductive health.
On March 7 and 8, the WHRI hosted a VOGUE team workshop, leading up to the International Human Microbiome Congress, held March 9 to 11 in Vancouver. The IHMC meeting was attended by a diverse community of international researchers from the medical, microbial and computational fields, brought together to discuss the complex relationships of the microbiome with human health and disease. The VOGUE team was well represented at the conference, presenting ten poster and two oral presentations based on our collective works.
The Vancouver group presented new evidence that even among healthy women who report no symptoms; there are huge differences in the kinds of bacteria present, and the relative amounts of these bacteria from woman to woman. We also found that the community of bacteria shifts over time, and was closely tied to where a woman was in her menstrual cycle. Taken together, these findings suggest that as we move toward more sophisticated ways to diagnose and treat imbalances in the vaginal bacteria, our clinical definition of vaginal health will be very broad, and interventions may be personalized and targeted, in order to restore a community that optimizes health in that individual woman.
Emily Wagner, MSc
Integrative Genomics Research Manager