In a recent study, Dr. Snehalata Huzurbazar, a biostatistics professor in the West Virginia University School of Public Health, and her colleagues analyzed how pregnant women’s vaginal microbiomes correlated to preterm birth rates. They identified bacteria species that proliferated in women who gave birth early.
The researchers scrutinized data from the Multi-Omic Microbiome Study–Pregnancy Initiative, a collaborative project centered at Virginia Commonwealth University. Because most of the study’s participants were African American, the findings may help healthcare providers predict and prevent preterm birth in this at-risk population. The researchers were also able to track how the bacterial communities changed over time, as the data spanned all trimesters of pregnancy and postpartum period.
They found that by the second trimester, women who would eventually give birth prematurely harbored much larger populations of certain vaginal bacteria than their full-term counterparts did. In addition, they had smaller populations of Lactobacillus crispatus.
The researchers also discovered that the microbial profile associated with preterm birth correlated to a greater presence of proinflammatory proteins — called cytokines — in vaginal fluid.
Their findings may influence how pregnant women’s risk of preterm birth is assessed. The project might also have implications beyond the clinical environment. It may improve how scientists — especially statisticians — make sense of microbiome data, even when dealing with other parts of the body.
Their results appear in Nature Medicine.Friday Letter Submission