After receiving a $1.8 million research grant from the National Institute of Nursing Research, Mary Regan, RN, PhD, associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Nursing in Baltimore, and Jacques Ravel, PhD, a professor with the Institute of Genomic Science, will examine the effect of diet on vaginal microbiota and preterm birth.
According to a news release, Regan and Ravel, in collaboration with researchers from UMSON and NINR, will investigate this health issue by studying 400 pregnant women from Baltimore neighborhoods that have higher than average PTB rates. PTB is the birth of an infant before 37 weeks of pregnancy and a leading cause of long-term neurological disabilities in children. The causes of PTB are not well understood, but are thought to originate from biological and/or social factors such as eating habits, personal health behaviors, prenatal care, and socioeconomic status. Recent studies have shown that the type of microorganisms, including bacteria, found in the vagina have been associated with PTB. However, research also shows that the composition, frequency and duration of abnormalities in the types of vaginal microorganisms may be affected by these same biological and demographic factors that are known predictors of PTB.
Preterm birth is highest among African-American and Hispanic women and is strongly associated with low socioeconomic status, Regan said in the release. Baltimore is an excellent environment in which to conduct this study because it provides us unique access to those groups. Participants will be enrolled in week 20 of their pregnancy and followed through to birth. During that time, they will collect vaginal swabs and report information about their diet, vaginal and prenatal health behaviors each week using a Web-based application specifically designed for the study.
Findings from the study are expected to determine whether modifying social and biological behavioral factors has any influence on the composition, frequency and duration of change in the vaginal microorganisms during pregnancy and if there is any association with PTB.