A big THANK YOU to all who attended Women & their Microbes 2016!
The 2016 conference was well-attended by almost 100 participants and featured the role of microbes in human reproduction; specific topics that were covered conception, pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding. Many themes, both scientific and patient-focused, emerged from the workshops including the creation of education materials like apps for expecting parents. A conference report is being prepared and will be submitted for peer-review.
Microbes and Conception: An Intimate Relationship
Dr. Hans Verstraelen | Pregnancy in fertile women ensues from a sequence of biological processes of delicate complexity in both sexes, including gametogenesis, fertilisation, and implantation. It is widely assumed that all hallmark events pertaining to human reproduction are completed in an essentially aseptic environment, also as a premise to the long-held view that human infants develop in a sterile uterine environment. Recent advances in the field of reproductive biology cautiously suggest that male and female reproductive tissue-associated bacterial communities may have a previously unrecognized role in successful conception. Albeit a scantly studied component of the human microbiome, we might therefore adopt the novel term ‘reproductive microbiome’ to refer to the bacterial metacommunity associated with human male and female reproductive tissues, which at least includes the semen microbiome, the vaginal microbiome, the uterine microbiome, and the follicular microbiota.
Microbes at Birth: Offspring Reap What Mother Sow?
Dr. Noel Mueller | Humans acquire a rich microbial ecosystem from their mothers during natural labor. Deterministic of this microbial acquisition are myriad factors, including maternal health, use of antibiotics, and diet/lifestyle during pregnancy, and, perhaps most strongly, delivery mode. Beyond determining the assembly of the newborn microbiome, these perinatal factors are associated with the future risk for the offspring in developing modern metabolic and autoimmune diseases. As such, seeding the newborn with the “right” microbes at birth holds the potential for primordial disease prevention and health promotion throughout the life course. Large clinical trials are now needed to test these hypotheses.
Microbes and Pregnancy: the Maternal Heritage
Dr. Erika Isolauri | Recent scientific evidence suggests that a growing number of clinical conditions, ranging from allergic diseases to obesity, are linked to aberrant gut microbiota composition and perturbation in host-microbe crosstalk at an early age. The compositional development of the child's gut microbiota, again, is highly sensitive to the mode of delivery and early feeding, antibiotic use and maternal immune and nutritional state during pregnancy. A series of clinical intervention studies by the NAMI (Nutrition, Allergy, Mucosal immunology and Intestinal microbiota) research group demonstrate that specific probiotic intervention during the perinatal period promotes healthy immune and metabolic programming, conferring a long-term clinical benefit.
Microbes and Breastfeeding: Feeding a Microbiome
Dr. Camilla Urbaniak | Human breast milk is one of the best sources of nutrition for the developing infant. It is composed of antibodies, cytokines, anti-microbials, bioactive components, macromolecules, proteins, and enzymes that all contribute to the health-promoting properties afforded by human milk. Another major constituent are bacteria, which have been shown to promote health in infancy, extending into adulthood. In the last 5 years, we have garnered a better appreciation of the microbial composition of human milk, however we still do not know what factors affect its composition. We have sought to answer this question by examining whether drug exposure, mode of delivery and gestation affect the milk microbiome and the potential impact these changes may have on the offspring as well as the lactating mother.
Workshop 1: Creating educational resources for doctors
Dr. Hans Verstraelen (Ghent University), Ms. Toni Harman (Filmmaker), Dr. Jessica Younes (workshop coordinator) | “What do doctors need to know about the microbiome in reproduction?” That's the question being explored in this interactive workshop led by award-winning filmmaker Toni Harman and Dr Hans Verstraelen, Professor of Gynaecology and Obstetrics at Ghent University. Clinicians are invited to give feedback and suggestions to help guide the development of video and text-based educational resources aimed at doctors about the critical importance of the microbiome during birth and early infancy.
Workshop 3: Evidence-based probiotics for women’s health
Dr. Monica Olivares Martin (Biosearch Life), Dr. Saskia van Hemert (Winclove Probiotics), Ms. Anna Christine Darling (Bifodan), and Ms. Rebecca van der Westen (workshop coordinator) | Have you ever started looking for a probiotic product, but got quickly confused by all the information available? Probiotics are often described as evidence-based, but it is not always clear what the characteristics of a good probiotic product are and what type(s) of evidence you should be looking for. This interactive workshop aims to address this search process in three distinct parts: firstly, it will describe what the important things one should look for in a probiotic product using established criteria from professional organizations such as the ISAPP. Then, three different probiotic products, currently available on the market within women’s health, will be briefly showcased by three different company scientists. Finally, the selection criteria for a good, high quality, and evidence-based probiotic product will be summarized and discussed.
Workshop 2: Creating educational resources for expecting parents
Dr. Noel Mueller and Ms. Elke Lievens (workshop coordinator) | “How can I provide the best possible care for my baby?” This is possibly one of the main questions asked by expecting parents. One often neglected answer we want to address during this workshop is to 'take care of your microbes'. Since rapid changes in our lifestyle, hygiene, and medicine are threatening our diverse microbiome, which have such an important role in our reproduction and maternal-infant health, it is more important than ever to increase awareness on the microbiome among expecting parents. This interactive workshop aims to create educational material for this target audience containing scientific information and its implications for infant care in the daily life setting.
Workshop 4: Gaps in knowledge and action in women’s health
Dr. Gregor Reid, Dr. Erika Isolauri, and Dr. Mariya Petrova (workshop coordinator) | "Do you want to have outstanding ideas for your future research? Do you want to participate in an open discussion forum addressing the gaps in women's health? If your answer if “YES” then join us in this interactive workshop led by Dr. Gregor Reid and Dr. Erika Isolauri, leaders in the multiple facets of the microbiome field. The workshop will give a snapshot of our current knowledge in women's health, infant development, and the microbiome, and will discuss what is required to move the field forward and to improve and enhance the health of women.