A research study funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) indicates that differences in vaginal bacteria could predict the risk of preterm birth in African American women who are pregnant. The findings could lead to a diagnostic test for preterm birth, the NIH believes.
A research group led by Jennifer Fettweis, PhD, of Virginia Commonwealth University analyzed data from a subpopulation of over 1,500 women who participated in the NIH Common Fund's Human Microbiome Project. The researchers collected samples of vaginal bacteria from 45 pregnant women who delivered their babies preterm and compared them with samples from 90 women who delivered at full term. Almost 80% of the 135 women were African American.
Fettweis' team found that the women who delivered preterm had a more diverse microbiome, with lower levels of Lactobacillus crispatus and higher levels of BVAB1, a bacterium associated with a condition called bacterial vaginosis, and 12 other bacterial groups.
The research group linked the combination of bacterial species to the presence of immune system factors that promote inflammation, according to the researchers. In a previous study, higher levels of factors that promote inflammation have been found in in women who deliver preterm.
The researchers noted that larger studies are needed to validate the findings, but the work could eventually lead to a screening test that could identify the risk for preterm birth in African American women. Findings from the study were published May 29 in Nature Medicine.