A new compass for your menstrual cycle?

Did you know that your vaginal discharge (or cervical mucus) changes throughout your menstrual cycle? In a new Isala daughter project, you get to discover which proteins are responsible for this and get to know your vaginal microbiome! A unique opportunity to contribute to new insights into how cervical mucus changes throughout the menstrual cycle. Would you like to help? Read more about the study and how to register here!

Logo EMIRA-studie

For this study, we are looking for participants that:

  • are native Dutch speakers OR can read and understand Dutch (since the informed consent form and questionnaires are all in Dutch)
  • aged 18 years or older
  • are not pregnant
  • are not using hormonal contraceptives (such as the pill, shot pill, mini pill, hormonal intrauterine device (IUD), or rod), because we already know that contraceptives affect your cervical mucus
  • have a regular menstrual cycle (similar length each month)

What do we expect from you? 

The study will start in September 2024. You will collect two vaginal samples during one menstrual cycle at three different time points: during your follicular phase, ovulation phase (to be estimated based on a provided ovulation test), and luteal phase. Be sure to check the box below the figure for more information. Taking your samples takes about five minutes per sampling point. Finally, at each sampling point, you will complete a short questionnaire to evaluate your general health and the characteristics of your cervical mucus.

Overview of sampling points during a 30-day menstrual cycle with a five-day menstrual period (red). This is only an example as the length of a menstrual cycle varies from person to person and sometimes from cycle to cycle.
  • Follicular phase: This is the first part of your menstrual cycle when follicles in your ovaries mature, thus preparing an egg for ovulation. During this phase, your cervical mucus feels thick and creamy.
  • Ovulation phase: This is the shortest part of your menstrual cycle when a matured egg is released from one of the ovaries and ready to be fertilized. Around your ovulation, your body produces abundant “fertile mucus” that looks transparent and feels like a stretchy, slippery protein-like structure.

  • Luteal phase: This is the last part of your menstrual cycle when the remaining follicle turns into a “little yellow body,” which produces the hormone progesterone to prepare the uterus for a possible pregnancy. In the luteal phase, your cervical mucus is less present, feels thick, and is more likely to look cloudy.

Your samples under the magnifying glass

As soon as we receive your samples in our Isala lab, our enthusiastic team of researchers will start processing them right away! In this study, we will map your vaginal microbiome based on your samples and study how your vaginal microbiome changes throughout your menstrual cycle. We will also look into which proteins are responsible for the changing structure of your cervical mucus. By combining all data with the information from the questionnaires, we hope to better understand what causes the changing composition and structure of cervical mucus throughout the menstrual cycle. Of course, as a participant, you will also be kept up to date with your personal results!

Cervical mucus as a compass for your health

There are different layers of mucus in your body, from your nose to your intestines, but also in your cervix. Cervical mucus (or vaginal discharge) is produced by the cervix and leaves your body via your vagina. Like other types of mucus, cervical mucus also protects you from all sorts of harmful bacteria, fungi, and other invaders!

In this study, we examine two things in this cervical mucus: bacteria on the one hand and mucins on the other hand. Mucins are proteins that provide a specific structure to your cervical mucus (stretchy, creamy, and so on) and can tell us a lot about your health. The role mucins play in the changing composition and structure of cervical mucus throughout the menstrual cycle is still not clear. With new insights, we can better detect and treat fertility problems and conditions such as endometriosis.

EMIRA, a nice name for this Isala daughter project!

EMIRA is a contraction of a long study name that reads as follows: Exploring Mucin-microbe Interactions for Reproductive health Assessment. With such an abbreviation, everyone knows in the blink of an eye which study it is about. And that is important since we are launching several studies at the same time, each with a unique goal! To summarize: With the EMIRA study, we aim to investigate how mucins and the vaginal microbiome influence the composition and structure of cervical mucus throughout the menstrual cycle.

An enthusiastic team of researchers!

Behind every study is an enthusiastic team of researchers! Inas Rahou is the PhD student leading this Isala daughter project. Of course, she can count on experienced Isala researchers such as Professor Sarah Lebeer (the one and only!), Professor Gilbert Donders (Isala’s gynecologist), Dr. Stijn Wittouck (our bioinformatics wizard), Dr. Sarah Ahannach (present from the start of Isala), Dr. Camille Allonsius (our amazing project coordinator) and Dr. Ilke De Boeck (our expert in clinical studies). For this study, our Isala team is also collaborating with the research group of Professor Annemieke Smet (the mucin expert) at the University of Antwerp, including PhD student Wout Arras. As usual at Isala: teamwork makes the dream work. 🙂 We would like to thank Medical Rovers Sciences and FWO for sponsoring this study.