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ZonMw grant awarded to Citizen Science project on vaginal health

26 September 2022
Dutch science research funder ZonMw has awarded a €250,000 grant to the citizen science project ‘By Women For Women’. In this project, citizens will be working with scientists from Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and other collaborators to investigate whether administering crispatus bacteria can help improve vaginal health.

Research shows that the so-called Lactobacillus crispatus bacterium is much more prevalent in healthy women: women with these bacteria are less likely to suffer from vaginal infections and are at lower risk of preterm birth. Rosanne Hertzberger and Remco Kort, microbiologists at VU Amsterdam, want to understand why this is the case, and whether sharing isolated crispatus bacteria can help improve vaginal health. They are working together with citizens and industry partners to develop an accessible vaginal probiotic containing a mix of different crispatus bacteria. In doing so, they are taking a step in the important transition from antibiotics to probiotics.

Over-the-counter product
It has recently been shown that crispatus bacteria from a product are able to effectively colonise the vagina for a long period of time, helping to prevent infections. However, these new products are being developed through pharmaceutical trials, which cannot be accessed by the general public and which do not include all the different crispatus strains that occur in the vagina. In this two-year project, which was recently launched, the scientists aim to work with citizens to find out which combinations of crispatus bacteria are the most effective. The aim is to arrive at the optimal mix for a vaginal probiotic that will be available over the counter.

In the first phase, dozens of citizen scientists will grow their own vaginal crispatus bacteria and conduct research on their bacterial composition. The second phase will focus on developing a female-friendly product based on the bacteria. In the final phase, the efficacy of the prototype product will be investigated. Citizens will not only isolate their own bacteria, but also participate in the research and development of the product. “Through citizen science, we empower women to do their own research and to take their health into their own hands”, Rosanne Hertzberger commented. “This way, the bacteria come to life and tell a story as they are harnessed to help other women in the future.”

Citizen Science grant
The grant was awarded as part of the Citizen Science for Health and Care programme, a collaboration between ZonMw and Health~Holland. The aim of the programme is to realise creative, innovative and – above all – sustainable solutions using Citizen Science.

This project is a collaboration between VU Amsterdam, the Crispatus Foundation, Yoni, Winclove, BaseClear and ARTIS-Micropia. For more information about this project, go to www.crispatus.org.