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Abigail Norris Turner, PhD

Award Name KL2

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Vitamin D Supplementation and Bacterial Vaginosis in an STD clinic population

The Wexner Medical Center at The Ohio State University’s Center for Clinical and Translational Science has awarded a KL2 grant to Abigail Norris Turner, PhD, for her research involving “Vitamin D Supplementation and Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) in an STD clinic population.”

Norris Turner has spent more than a decade working in the area of women’s reproductive health, focusing primarily on prevention of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in women. BV is an important risk factor for HIV: it is a highly prevalent condition that increases the risk of HIV acquisition by about 60 percent. Despite the risk, it is a relatively neglected area of study.

BV is a reproductive tract infection in women resulting from an imbalance of specific vaginal bacteria. Healthy women have predominantly one type of bacteria in the vagina called lactobacilli, but other bacteria are also present in much smaller concentrations.

BV occurs when the concentration of lactobacilli declines and the other bacteria increase in concentration. About a third of women of reproductive age worldwide have BV at any given time. Half have no BV symptoms, and the other half of women with BV experience symptoms such as a foul smell, unusual discharge and itching.

Women who have sex more often and who have a higher number of sexual partners have a higher risk of BV, as well as women who douche or use other vaginal hygiene products. However, “bacterial vaginosis is not a sexually transmitted disease,” said Norris Turner. “It is a reproductive tract infection and any woman can get it. Although it is much less common, even women who have never been sexually active can develop BV.”

Norris Turner’s main research goal is to determine the association between vitamin D and recurrence of BV. In her study, all participants have BV on the day they enroll. All women receive the standard antimicrobial therapy for BV; in addition, half the women are randomized to receive high-dose vitamin D while half receive an identical placebo that does not contain vitamin D. The study is double blinded, meaning neither the participants nor the investigators know which women are receiving vitamin D and which are receiving the placebo. All participants follow the same dosing schedule, taking a pill once a week for the first month in the study, then once a month for the next five months. Norris Turner monitors the participants for safety and other outcomes, including recurrence of BV. Patients return to the Sexual Health clinic for visits at Columbus Public Health after one, three and six months in the study.

BV is highly prevalent both nationally and internationally. Vitamin D is safe, inexpensive, stable in a range of environmental conditions, has a long shelf life and has many known health benefits for women. Norris Turner hopes that vitamin D will also provide a cheap and readily available therapy for BV. She is still actively collecting data to determine whether vitamin D reduces the recurrence of BV in this clinic population. She plans to publish this pilot research and initiate a larger-scale trial to further investigate the association between vitamin D and BV.

By Charaun Little, Friday, February 24, 2012

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