Study creates new model to identify good bacteria that protect women from HIV

University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston researchers said on Friday that they are closer to identifying the good bacteria that protect women from HIV infection and sexually transmitted infections.

The research team is the first to successfully grow human vaginal skin cells outside the body that support colonies of "good and bad" bacteria and study the interaction. The bacteria were collected from women during routine gynecological exams.

The group, led by Richard Pyles at UTMB, published the study results in PLOS One. Pyles said the method provided an opportunity to study how mixed species bacterial communities impact over-the-counter products like douches and prescription medications and contraceptives.

"These types of studies are very difficult or even impossible to complete in women who are participating in clinical trials," Pyles said.

The study revealed potential for the test model to evaluate how microbial drugs interact with bacteria. A current study showed that bacterial vaginosis reduced the antiviral property of a leading anti-HIV medicines. In addition, vaginal surfaces that have healthy bacteria and were treated with the same antiviral medication produced significantly less HIV than those without bacteria.

"This model is unique as it faithfully recreates the vaginal environment ex vivo, both in terms of the host cellular physiology and the associated complex vaginal microbiomes that could not previously be cultured," Lead Scientist and Co-Author Marc Baum said. "I believe it will be of immense value in the study of sexually transmitted infections."