Curious about the course of the investigation? We totally understand that.  
On this page, you can read the broad outlines of the course of Isala. Be sure to sign up for our newsletter or follow Isala on social media for even more updates! 

October 2018

A more concrete idea

Sarah Lebeer submits a research proposal to the European Research Council (ERC) for groundbreaking research into lactobacilli’s useful role (Lacto-Be). This proposal aims to analyze lactobacilli in 1000 samples from the skin and the vagina for the first time. Therefore our citizen science expertise will have to be expanded much further. She has previously conducted citizen research on fermented roots and healthy bacteria in the nose. 

Sarah Ahannach starts her PhD

Another Sarah will join our research group. Sarah Ahannach is passionate about Women’s Health and is very passionate about researching the vaginal microbiome. 

October 2018
Spring 2019

We see it bigger

Within Sarah Lebeer’s research group, the idea is growing further to focus more on creating ‘awareness’ around women’s vaginal health and breaking the associated taboos for the new citizen research into vaginal lactobacilli.

The scientific basis of our research is further developed

We do a lot of literature study, brainstorms, experiments, and analyses to prepare the research design. We gradually know what we want to measure and how we want to involve participants actively!

Spring 2019
March 2019

Eline Oerlemans is receiving her PhD

During her Ph.D., she studied the importance of the vaginal microbiome. Interest within our research group is growing: we have to work on this! 

June 2019: This is the first time we sit down with our communications agency,  Studio Maria 

We are looking for 200 women who want to provide very intimate samples. Will this work?

June 2019
June 19, 2019

Defend project in Europe

Sarah Lebeer may defend the entire research design of lactobacilli’s useful role for the ERC (European Research Council).

Greenlight from Europe

We are getting good news from Europe; the broader research project has been approved, so Isala can now really start. There is a certainty that there will be a budget to analyze the samples. Isala must continue to look for funds to set up the complete citizen research.

September 3, 2019
September 2019

Our research is given a name and a logo

We choose Isala. A tribute to Isala Van Diest, the first female doctor in Belgium. We dare to choose a fun, eye-catching logo, panties.

Swabs, swabs, swabs!

We conduct numerous tests. Which type of swab is most suitable for our research? What points of attention are there for transport and storage? Which analysis technique gives the best results? 

October 2019
November 2019

Approaching stakeholders and writing files

You don’t do such a major citizen investigation alone, and there is a lot involved. We write files for the ethics committee, seek funding, and approach partners and stakeholders. Europe looks at all ethical and privacy aspects of our research.

The scientific and communicative dots on the i

We take our time for thorough preparation, both the scientific side of the research and the communication, because this is also crucial in citizen research. So we are conducting a pilot study with about twenty women. Is everything clear? Are all of their swabs usable for analysis? 

December 2019
January 14, 2020

First Isala Advisory Board

We provide an update on the study to all partners in Isala and ask for their advice.

Almost finished! 

We are working hard on the website and all communication materials for launching the search for 200 women. 

February 2020
March 8, 2020

Women’s day

Everything was ready to launch on this symbolic day, but there it was, COVID-19.

Wanted: 200 vagina’s

Despite the corona crisis, we decide to launch our search for 200 participants. Few hours later, we have already achieved that goal. Wow! 

March 24, 2020
March 30, 2020

A proud ambassador

Evi Hanssen, a famous Belgian TV presenter, helps break the taboo around vaginal health and proudly poses in our lab

Massive enthusiasm

We are blown away by the success. As many as 5,528 women responded to our call. We close our launch phase with a smile. 

April 5, 2020
April 2020

Adjusting the research

The massive response offers many new possibilities. We decide to adjust our research completely. We will invite all women to take two vaginal samples. Everyone is given a lengthy questionnaire to complete. Again we are happy!

Busy times

We are changing everything and working very hard in our lab to get all the scientific material ready for this new research phase. All communication must also be adjusted and adapted. Suddenly, thousands of women will take two swabs instead of 200 participants in a long-term study…

May-June 2020
June 2020

You can also support Isala financially

The University Fund includes Isala. It is now possible to donate and support our research.

Get rid of the taboo!

We’re making an important addition to our blog page, adding the scientific answers to our Isala kit conversation starters.

June 28, 2020
July 2020

Isala kits leave …

More than 4,150 kits from Isala were sent. We invite all women to take samples. Our social media exploded thanks to countless tags and stories.

… And return

The samples are pouring in. This citizen science project is a great success. We have received samples from 3332 women! Now to start the analyses!

August 2020
August 2020

Preparation in our lab

We welcome robot Rey, who will help us process all samples, fortunately, because there is a lot of work.

Ready for phase two

Based on a complex scientific algorithm, we have selected 500 women eligible for the second phase of our research. We consult intensively about this with biostatisticians and other scientists. Using several swabs over two cycles, we want to learn even more about the influence of birth control, hormones, nutrition, and personal hygiene on the vaginal microbiome. We even hope to collect data to help with a breakthrough in forensics. 

September 2020
October 2020

The large Isala kits are shipped

In the end, we choose 275 women. They received the pink, large Isala kit in their Postal box. They were asked to take swabs from their skin, vagina and saliva.

The analyses continue 

These are super exciting weeks at our lab. The DNA analysis of all swabs continues, and we are busy checking hypotheses and writing history. By Friday, October 30, we had already examined 1,526 samples, keeping up the hard work! 

Fall 2020
January 2021

The samples from phase 2 are pouring in

Now we investigate the dynamics of the vaginal microbiome in 275 women. They also donate three skin samples and one saliva sample.

Isala goes international! Get to know Laura in Peru!

We will study the vaginal microbiome in Peru’s Amazon and Coastal regions! We are working in collaboration with Universidad Nacional de la Amazonía Peruana and Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia.

March 2021
March 2021

The first birthday of the Isala project

Hip hip hoeray, today Isala turned 1 years young! Without you all and our great research team we would never made it this far. Honestly, we can never express it enough: thank you very much! 

At full throttle

The lab is still running at full capacity. We continue analyzing swabs and also growing bacteria. And for  the very first time in our lab, we managed to isolate Lactobacillus iners. This could really be a milestone for further research on this common vaginal bacteria

April 2021
May 2021

A wealth of data

Thanks to more than 3300 women who participated in the first research phase of Isala, we have a wealth of data. We have many intensive consultations with microbiologist, doctors, statisticians, and communication specialists. Together we make the right choices to inform our participants about their individual results.


We are almost ready to share a year of hard work with the world. We like to pamper Isala’s participants, so we are working hard to combine our lab work with the preparations for communication to the general public, scientist and of course our participants.
Fortunately, Isala can count on a fantastic team!

June 2021
June 2021

The first results arrived!

Discover here what we have already learned about the vaginal microbiome in Flanders

The science communication price

Isala has received a price and not just any: The science communication price of the Young Academy and the Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Science and Art

October 2021
October 2021

Welcome Leonore & Caroline!

Two new PhD students are joining the Isala team! Leonore will investigate the interactions between vaginal bacteria and the influence of underwear fabrics on the microbiome. Caroline wants to explore the beneficial impact of vitamin producing lactobacilli in the human body. Welcome to the team!

Presentation on the international ISIDOG conference

Isala goes international! Sarah Lebeer and Sarah Ahannach were invited speakers to present on the vaginal microbiome on the international conference for gynaecologists ISIDOG in Budapest, Hongarije.

November 2021
November 2021

The first samples of the Laura project

The Laura project receives the first vaginal samples! Thanks all Peruvian women that have donated vaginal samples and the researchers that are enthousiastically working on the project.

Marie project

After the Laura project, a second sister project is born, this time in Switzerland: the Marie project. Follow it here for more info!

February 2022
February 2022

Preprint of the first Isala phase manuscript

All the hard work has paid of and there is a scientific article in preprint! You can find it here.

In Brussels for the Belgian Society of Microbiology Symposium 2022

The team has presented the Isala project on BSM2022 with several poster presentations. Sarah Ahannach even received a price for best poster!

March 2022
March 2022

2 years of Isala

Isala is officially a 2-year-old toddler and even has two sisters: Marie and Laura! Really, everyone involved, a huge thank you!

Almost done! (Second phase of Isala)

We have received all Isala samples from the Isala longitudinal phase and are almost ready to share the first results with all of you.

April 2022
April 2022

Camille Allonsius joined the Isala team

Camille finished her PhD on women’s health in 2019 with Sarah Lebeer as promotor and is very excited to join the Isala team.

Presentation of Isala to microbiome pioneers in Sweden

Sarah Lebeer was invited to present Isala to the researchers of CTMR  at Karolinska Institut in Sweden & some famous microbiome pioneers: Jeff Gordon, Martin Blaser, Maria Gloia Bello Dominguez, Fredrik Backhed, Tore Midvedt, Phil Bennet, David MacIntyre, Henriette Svarre Nielsen, …

May 2022
June 2022

Another scientific Isala publication!

This time about a specific bacteria that is able to produce vitamin B2. You can find the paper here

The Isala team was in Barcelona at the international ISAPP conference

Sarah Lebeer had the opportunity to present the Isala project on THE ‘international scientific association of probiotics and prebiotics’ (ISAPP) in Barcelona, and invited researchers all over the world to start their own sisterhood.

June 2022
June 2022

Together with Soapbox Science we went to the streets of brussels

Sarah Ahannach went together with Soapbox Science to the streets of Brussels to talk about the microbiome, vaginal health and Isala with passing people. Read all about it in her blog.

Meet the Isala team

They have worked on Isala in the background, each of them did their part and so they clearly deserved their place on the teams page. You can find the updated teams page here

June 2022
July 2022

Our new results are out!

We have some new insights into the vaginal bacterial community from the second part of the Isala project. You can find more information here

Two more interesting vaginal bacteria were added

Last year, we shared eight bacterial passports with you. We now found that two other bacteria also deserve a passport. Read more about the Anaerococcus and Limosilactobacillus here.

July 2022
July 2022

Thank you Eline Oerlemans for all your hard work on the Isala project!

Eline Oerlemans worked on the Isala project since the very start but will now take on a new professional challenge. We want to thank her for all her hard work for Isala, thank you Eline!

Prijs Stichting Antoine Faes

This year’s prize from the Antoine Faes Foundation focused on microbiology (Good and bad microorganisms). We are very proud that the Isala team led by Sarah Lebeer, together with the intestinal microbiome team of Jeroen Raes, received this prize. Microbiome research is big in Flanders!

September 2022
October 2022

Welcome Isabel & Inas

Two new PhD students are joining the Isala team! Isabel, who you might know from her previous blog posts, will investigate the link of the vaginal microbiome with food. Inas on the other hand will try to improve diagnosis of endometriosis. Welcome to the team!

Isala present on the Science Day

Over 30,000 visitors, large and small, were welcomed at various locations, such as universities, museums and companies. The University of Antwerp also opened the doors of her city campus for a major science festival. Of course, we were delighted to attend. There was certainly no lack of enthusiasm!

November 2022
January 2023

First Isala symposium

Big news! Our very first Isala event happened! During this event, many well-known experts gave a scientific lecture on a saga of topics related to vaginal health. We are still savoring its memory 😊 It was definitely a big success as we can conclude from the many positive reactions of those present. And for sure we want more of this in the near future…

Isala is celebrating its third birthday with some new results

It is Isala’s third birthday! One big party! As a present from us to you, we share brand new results abour the intimate microbiome. Wondering which bacteria live on different skin sites and in saliva? Check it on our website!

March 2023
May 2023

Isala wins the prestigious EU Prize for citizen science!

Isala strikes gold! We are thrilled to announce that we have been awarded the brand-new ‘Grand EU Prize’ for citizen science, presented for the first time this year by the European Commission. Selected from over 300 submissions, this recognition is truly an honor for us! We are immensely proud and grateful! Read more in our blog.

Award Ceremony for the Grand EU Prize in Linz

Professor Sarah Lebeer and several Isala team members travel to Austria to receive the prestigious EU Prize for citizen science. They participate in a splendid ceremony at the Ars Electronica Festival. Discover more about their experiences in our blog.

September 2023
September 2023

A fantastic audience in Germany

Professor Sarah Lebeer presents our Isala project at the EMBL Congress in Heidelberg, Germany, focusing on the human microbiome. The international audience shows overwhelming enthusiasm for our participants and the human aspect of our work. Additionally, we receive several invitations for publication in top-tier journals.

Our very first big Isala article is out!

What a milestone! The key findings from our first research phase have been published in Nature Microbiology. Being featured in such a prestigious journal is no small feat. We are incredibly proud. A huge thank you to our fantastic participants! Check out the article here! Additionally, our research is gaining attention from top-tier journals like Nature Medicine.

October 2023
October 2023

Welcome Maline & Maria

Two new doctoral students join the Isala team! Maline will investigate vaginal yeast infections and explore the role of the vaginal microbiome in this context. On the other hand, Maria aims to map out the origin of the vaginal microbiome. Where do our vaginal bacteria come from, and where do they go? Together, we will unravel even more vaginal secrets! Welcome to the team! A huge thank you to the FWO for the funding!

The Isala team in Greece

Part of the Isala team is heading to Athens, Greece, to collaborate with leading gynaecologists and physicians from around the world (including our own Isala gynaecologist, Professor Gilbert Donders) to exchange knowledge on infectious diseases in women’s reproductive health. It’s a deep dive into the medical world! Professor Sarah Lebeer and Dr. Sarah Ahannach shared insights from our Isala study.

October 2023
January 2024

Sister projects united live

A momentous occasion in the history of our Isala sisterhood! The leading ladies from various sister projects came together for the first time in Belgium! From left to right, you’ll recognize Josiane Kenfack from the Leke project in Cameroon, Maria and Sandra from our Isala project closely linked with the Laura project in Peru, Monica from the Laura project, Vanessa from the Clelia project in Italy, and our very own Sarah Ahannach! Josiane Kenfack is currently strengthening our team for two months, which is super exciting!

Isala at opening event for EU chair Belgium

Belgium becomes EU president and hosts an opening event ‘Zie ons doen’ in Mechelen. Professor Sarah Lebeer represents Isala as one of the two scientific projects presented by the University of Antwerp.

January 2024
January 2024

Caroline Dricot travels to the North

PhD student Caroline travels North for the ‘Metabolomics in Life Sciences’ conferentce in Umeä (Sweden).  We learn a lot about the wonderful world of metabolites and win the poster prize for our integrated research.

On the road with Isala in the United Kingdom

A part of the Isala team (Professor Sarah Lebeer, Josiane Kenfack, and Isabel Erreygers) travels to Hinxton, UK. Professor Sarah Lebeer gives a lecture by invitation. The international audience once again shows tremendous enthusiasm. We even receive compliments from the editor of Science!

February 2024
February 2024

Isala looking for participants for the Ramadan study

What is the impact of fasting on our bodies and minds? Our Isala team is set to find out during Ramadan! We’re launching a daughter project, Rufaida, with which we honor Rufaida al-Aslamia, the first female Muslim surgeon and nurse. A true trailblazer! Are you curious about the impact of Ramadan fasting on women’s dietary habits and health? Stay tuned!

A brief stay at the British embassy

Professor Sarah Lebeer was invited to the British embassy to speak about our Isala research alongside other inspiring women’s health ambassadors. What a beautiful location! We truly enjoyed this unique opportunity.

February 2024
March 2024

Isala turns 4

Isala blows out 4 candles! We celebrate with a beautiful cake! The near future holds a lot of excitement. Four years ago, our journey began together with you on board the Isala train. Since then, the Isala team has grown tremendously. Stay tuned for the next stops!

Our leading lady goes overseas

Professor Sarah Lebeer presents the Isala project in Canada at the SciX event.

March 2024
March 2024

Sarah Ahannach pitches Isala at DOCVILLE

We’re big fans of science and film. So, it was an amazing evening full of fascinating science pitches during DOCVILLE – Documentary Film Festival, Leuven. Our Isala project was selected, and Sarah Ahannach got the chance to pitch it for a potential documentary. Afterwards, there were speed dates between directors and scientists, aiming to find the best match. The goal: an authored documentary that you can watch next year at ScienceVille!

Women’s health conference in Copenhagen

A conference with women’s health at the top of the agenda? Our Isala team members couldn’t miss it! They travelled together to Copenhagen, Denmark. Three days filled with interesting presentations on the vaginal microbiome, it couldn’t get any better! And of course, we also shared about our own research. Super exciting!

April 2024
April 2024

Catching flies in Spain!

Isala as honorary guest at the international meeting of the Citizen Science project ‘Melanogaster: Catch the fly!’ (Zaragoza, Spain), inspiring teachers and students to perform biotechnological experiments. For two days, experiences were shared regarding the large-scale organization and community engagement of Citizen Science projects. We really enjoyed the event and admire the professors and teachers for motivating so many young students to get involved with (Citizen) Science.

Isala is looking for 1000 vaginas!

The Isala train is departing once again! New team members on board means new lines of research coming to light. Isala is looking for participants. In our new studies, we’re investigating the influence of vitamins, menstrual products, the menstrual cycle, your close ones, and fungal infections on vaginal health. Ready to get on board with us?

April 2024