NVA’s Spring 2017 Research Award

Betsy Foxman PhD – University of Michigan

Betsy Foxman PhD, a professor and director at the Center for Molecular and Clinical Epidemiology of Infectious Disease, was awarded an NVA research grant for a study on Molecular Microbial Markers and Vulvodynia. Although the causes of vulvodynia are largely unknown, vulvodynia is hypothesized to result from an altered immune-inflammatory response mechanism.  One relatively unexplored mediator of the immune-inflammatory response mechanism is the human microbiome.  Foxman proposes characterizing the vaginal microbiome from 234 women with vulvodynia and 234 age-matched controls, by conducting an untargeted 16SrRNA taxonomic screen of vaginal specimens collected during a speculum examination.  Using novel statistical approaches — oligotyping and Dirichlet multinomial mixture models — to identify bacterial community types in the sequence data and integrating these measures with standard epidemiologic analytic methods they will: a) characterize the vaginal bacterial communities among those with and without vulvodynia, and by vulvodynia phenotype (vulvodynia symptoms onset, site of pain, and provocation of pain);  b) describe the association of vaginal community types with vulvodynia and vulvodynia phenotype; and c) describe the association of the most common genera found among cases with vulvodynia and vulvodynia phenotype.  Foxman will also use sequence data to identify potential metabolic pathways that might discriminate between those with and without vulvodynia, and vulvodynia type.  Any associations found between bacterial community types, bacterial composition and function and vulvodynia will lead to new avenues for exploring the etiology, and identifying novel diagnostic or prognostic measures.