Vaginal fluid transplants could soon become available to protect women from an infection that makes them vulnerable to catching STIs.
Doctors in the US have been given the green light to start offering the transplant and they are now looking for potential donors following an initial pilot study.
Healthy bacteria from donors will be put into a tampon-like device and inserted in a health trial involving about 40 women who suffer from bacterial vaginosis (BV).
It is hoped the transplants could finally provide a ‘cure’ to women with BV, a common infection which causes an unusual discharge with a strong fishy smell.
Antibiotics can treat BV, which occurs when there is a change in the natural balance of bacteria in the vagina, but it often comes back within three months.
Some of the trial’s volunteers will receive a dose of healthy vaginal microbes from donors to restore the balance.
Others will have a placebo instead of a vaginal microbiota transplant (VMT).
Donors would be screened for HIV and other infections and they must abstain from sex for at least a month before giving a sample.
Researchers at John Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, were inspired by the success of poo transplants.
They say the vaginal fluid transplants could provide a “fully curative or restorative” BV therapy.
BV is not an STI but it can increase the risk of contracting one such as chlamydia and getting urinary infections.
The most common symptom of BV is a discharge with a strong fishy smell, particularly after sex, the NHS says on its website.
The colour and consistency of the discharge may change – becoming greyish-white and thin and watery.
However, 50 per cent of women with BV do not have any symptoms.
The infection does not usually cause any soreness or itching.
There’s a small chance that BV can cause complications with pregnancy. It increases the risk of a miscarriage or the baby being born prematurely.
Recent research has found that BV may be a factor in the development of cervical cancer.
Women should see a GP or go to a sexual health clinic if they think they have BV, the NHS says.
A number of things can cause a change in the natural balance of bacteria in the vagina, including diet, medication, the menstrual cycle or douching.
The VMT trial has been approved by the US Food and Drugs Administration following a pilot study involving 20 potential donors.
Their findings have been published in the journal Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology.
The researchers said the success of faecal microbiota transplant (FMT) in treating recurrent C. difficile infection has led to “growing excitement” about the potential for other transplants such as VMT.
They wrote: “We anticipate that the next frontier of microbiota transplantation will be vaginal microbiota transplant (VMT).”
“We have very few (BV) treatment options available, and none of them curative or restorative, for ‘resetting’ the vaginal microbiota to a more protective state.”