International recognition for Isala in a high-quality journal

Your attention please! Today the most important results of our first Isala phase are published in a scientific journal. Not just any kind of journal, no, we are referring to the one-and-only prestigious Nature Microbiology journal. The preprint of our scientific article (this is kind of a ‘test print’ that is subjected to some feedback rounds) was available for some time now, but from today on the official publication is a fact! We are very proud and, above all, very grateful to have reached this milestone. 😊 This publication is a very nice recognition for Isala. In this blog several authors who largely contributed to this publication will take the floor. Definitely keep on reading!

This publication means that the scientific community recognizes that the Isala data is of absolute top quality. Achieving this milestone is particularly noteworthy because blending citizen science with top-notch research is no easy feat. When establishing such a citizen-science project, compromises often have to be made. For example, the most expensive analysis techniques are usually not applied to analyse samples collected by citizens. Why? Because people fear that more things can go ‘wrong’ compared to when experienced scientists collect the samples. Professor Sarah Lebeer is happy to explain how we experience this with our Isala project: “From the beginning we were highly convinced that women themselves are able to take high-quality samples from their vaginas – which was also confirmed in a pilot study – and the samples were subsequently analysed with the most innovative DNA technologies for vaginal microbiome research”.

“We have no doubt that this publication will help the scientific world move forward with big steps. Apart from the research that had already been conducted in the context of pregnancy and infections, an important piece of the puzzle was still missing and that is the composition of the vaginal microbiome in healthy women”, according to Dr. Sarah Ahannach. Then, a few years ago, the question was born whether the vaginal microbiome of Flemish women is as healthy as we thought. And yes, we were able to confirm that thanks to our amazing participants.

“It was striking that we found that specific groups of bacteria often occur together in different vaginal samples,” as Dr. Stijn Wittouck confirms. “This suggests that they interact with each other, or with their human host.” Dr. Thies Gehrmann adds to this: “In addition, our Isala team revealed many factors that are associated with the vaginal microbiome. We achieved this by using complex biostatistical analyses”. Isala clearly provides a rich source of data to get a new group of researchers going. They will now help to unravel the effect of nutrition, hygiene, menstrual products and much more on the vaginal microbiome composition. In fact, the participants themselves have been actively thinking about aspects worthy of further investigation. This confirms, once again, the large need for lifestyle advice when it comes to vaginal health. Also, this illustrates the importance of their input, not only in terms of providing samples, which in this case happened in the privacy of their own home, but also in giving direction to our scientific research. Without our amazing participants it would not have been possible to achieve all of this. We are so happy to have them. Once again: A big shoutout to them, thank you!

As you might know, progress is also being made outside our Belgian borders. In the meantime, the Isala network has continued to expand. Wow, up until now we have already more than 10 sister projects spread across three different continents! Together with their large sister, Isala, born and raised in Antwerp, the local researchers in those countries look forward to further putting the vaginal microbiome on the world map to help women worldwide in their search for an optimal vaginal ecosystem and health. Keep in touch to hear about our latest updates! 😊