Senior Scholar Award in Global Infectious Disease
Ronald W. Davis, Ph.D.
Stanford University School of Medicine

Sexually Transmitted Disease Agents in the “Healthy” Human Vagina

For more than 100 years, if you wanted to know what organisms were present in any given ecological niche, you took a swab from the niche and streaked the swab on an agar plate, incubated the plate, looked for colonies, and examined what grew. For a somewhat more sophisticated approach, you would streak the swab on several agar plates containing a variety of nutrients (or lack thereof) and incubate some of the plates in the presence of air/oxygen and some in the absence of oxygen. However, it is very unlikely that you would use more than a dozen different agar plates. As powerful as the use of agar plates has been, it is now recognized that less than half of the organisms in any given niche will grow and form colonies on agar plates.

Fortunately in that regard, a new scientific approach has recently been invented that allows for the identification of organisms in any given niche without having to grow the organism at all. This approach makes use of the very powerful polymerase chain reaction (PCR). We are applying that approach to the ecological niche of the healthy human vagina. We have two major goals. 1. We want to define the flora in the healthy human vagina as a function of age, sexual activity, birth control measures if any, socio-economic and geographic group. 2. In addition, we will test for the presence of sexually transmitted disease agents in the apparently healthy human vagina. We hope that our second major goal will lead to genome-based early detection methods for sexually transmitted diseases

Contact Dr. Davis.