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Principal investigators of the Baby U study, Professors Thumbi Ndung’u (left), and Doug S Kwon.

The HIV Pathogenesis Programme (HPP) at UKZN launched a new study, the Baby U Study on 5 September. Based at the FRESH Clinic in Umlazi, it focuses on the role of vaginal and gastrointestinal tract microbiota in preterm birth (PTB), a common public health challenge.

A cohort of pregnant South African women will be followed up with a longitudinal collection of genital and gastrointestinal tract samples for assessment of the vaginal and gut microbiome from early in the second trimester of their pregnancy until nine months postpartum. The aim is to characterise the associations between microbial communities and PTB. In addition, peripartum alterations in vaginal and gastrointestinal (rectal) microbial communities will be assessed with postpartum follow up for nine months. The study will also have an educational component aimed at empowering participants to provide a solid foundation for their child’s development.

This dual strategy will be used to support the women in the community while also advancing the understanding of important biological contributors of PTB in an African population.

The Baby U study is a collaboration between the HPP and the Ragon Institute of the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard. Professors Thumbi Ndung’u, BVM, PhD, HPP Scientific Director and Doug S. Kwon, MD, PhD from the Ragon Institute are the principal investigators.

Words: Mary Vanderstok and Lihle Sosibo

Photographs: Supplied