Almost a year ago, I wrote a blog about vaginal microbiomes and ethnicity. As a Isala team member, born and raised in Peru, I am now super excited that, thanks to the global minds starting grant, we could now extend Isala to Perú, where “Isala” becomes “Laura”, named after Esther Rodriguez Dulanto (1872-1919), the first female physician in Perú.
The Laura project aims to map the vaginal microbiome of healthy women of reproductive age from two geographically contrasting regions in Peru, the coast (Lima city) and the Amazon (Iquitos city). Moreover, this project aims to raise awareness on vaginal health among the public and build capacities (e.g. training on molecular and microbiology techniques) in Peruvian researchers.
Each region has distinct environmental and ethnic differences. Lima, unlike Iquitos, is an urbanized city and, sadly, one of the most polluted cities in Latin america1. Another difference between these regions is eating habits. For instance, in Iquitos, fish consumption is higher than Lima2;corn and cereal consumption is also markedly different with 63% and 38% for Lima and Iquitos, respectively3. All this information, along with other habits, was gathered in the questionnaire and will help us understand the possible factors influencing the difference in vaginal microbiota composition, if any.
Laura Esther Rodriguez Dulanto (1872-1919) was the first female physician in Peru. She specialized in the practice of gynaecology, publishing numerous papers in this area, including papers on ovarian cysts and uterine fibroids. However, she also studied tuberculosis, presenting a paper on the subject at the Sixth Pan American Medical Congress held in 1913. She worked as a teacher and physician at the “Liceo Fanning” and the convents “La Conceptión” and “Las Nazarenes”. She also started a ‘School of Nursing’, where she personally took charge of dictating the course of Anatomy, Physiology and Hygiene. Her initiative paved the way for other women in her country, however it took more than 25 years until another Peruvian woman obtained the medical degree.
Peruvian network on vaginal microbiome research
To investigate the vaginal microbiome in Peru, in the context of Isala and Laura projects, we have established a research network with two Peruvian universities Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia – UPCH (Lima) and Universidad Nacional de la Amazonia Peruana – UNAP (Iquitos).
Moreover, the year before Laura, we started an academic collaboration with another Peruvian university, Universidad Nacional San Agustín de Arequipa (UNSA), located in the highlands.
The UNSA and Lebeerlab teams will map the vaginal microbiome of women of reproductive age and menopause. Of note, each research group is led by excellent and enthusiastic female researchers Theresa Ochoa (UPCH), Viviana Pinedo and Graciela Meza (UNAP) and Ada del Carpio (UNSA), all of them willing to contribute to women’s health!
This project also builds capacities in young Peruvian researchers and students on microbiome research. Specifically, they will learn microbiology and molecular biology techniques applied to vaginal microbiome research.
To achieve the aim to raise awareness on vaginal health in Peruvian women, volunteers will receive information from health care professionals as well as leaflets with infographics with content on vaginal microbiota facilitating science communication as well as education in vaginal health. Finally, we have launched the Isala web page in Spanish, so that volunteers and interested women can check on several topics related to vaginal health such as menstrual health, contraceptive methods among others.
Expected and unexpected challenges
I must admit that coordinating a research project from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean is challenging, with for instance having late-night meetings due to time zone differences (that was expected). In addition, the current pandemic has increased the complexity. Since a lot of lab materials were required for covid, purchasing reagents became really hard.
Nevestheless, some good news arrived recently; after several months or waiting, our project was approved by the Peruvian ethical committee. Finally, we were allowed to recruit volunteers! And we did it!
We are happy to announce that in total 112 volunteeers participated in Laura! Stay tunned for future updates! 😊
- WHO. Ambient outdoor air pollution database, by country and city (xlsx file). Geneva: World Health Organization (WHO), Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health; 2016.