Prof Willa Huston

Prof Willa Huston

Professor Willa Huston, microbiologist and lead researcher at the University of Technology Sydney specialising in the reproductive tract microbiome and STIs.

Professor Willa Huston is a microbiologist at the University of Technology Sydney. She leads a research team who investigate sexually transmitted infections and the reproductive tract microbiome.
Her research team is committed to understanding how STIs and the vaginal microbiome are involved in infertility and other adverse impacts on women’s reproductive and genital health. Ultimately the team aims to develop ways to diagnose, treat, and prevent these impacts, improving women’s reproductive and sexual health.

Trying or thinking about trying for a baby? I am sure you are already thinking about diet, supplements, and maybe your lifestyle choices… 

Well, in the not too distant future you might also be encouraged by your Doctor to give some thought to your microbial friends in your vagina!  Scientists have found that the microorganisms (or microbiome) in your vagina can be important for fertility and successful outcome of your pregnancy. 

Women undergoing fertility treatment who had vaginal microbiomes with mostly lactobacillus were more likely to have a successful positive pregnancy test. On the other hand, women without (or with less) lactobacillus but with more microorganisms that have be associated with unhealthy states, have been reported to be less likely to have a positive outcome of fertility treatment. This is likely also the case for women who are trying to get pregnant without assisted reproduction therapies.

The vaginal microbiome is a system, so we want you to understand that is more complex than just having the ’goodies’ and the ‘baddies’. The amounts, proportions, and overall composition are all factors in what makes a healthy vaginal microbiota.

You also need to know that there are lots of individual differences in what is healthy for the vaginal microbiota, including ethnicity and lifestyles. We do know that generally too little lactobacillus and too much of some other microbes are associated with reduced fertility. 

There are some bacteria we know are specifically problematic during pregnancy and need treatment including STIs and group B streptococcus (GBS). There are many bacteria, including those that are present in higher amounts during conditions such as bacteria vaginosis, that are associated with reduced success of fertility treatments and increased risks of adverse outcomes during pregnancy. These include Gardnerella vaginalis, BV-associated bacteria, Atopobium vaginae, and some Prevotella.

We say it is complex because these bacteria are also found in the vaginal microbiota of many healthy women without any problems, they seem to become a problem more when there is too many or too much of these types of organisms. If you have vaginal symptoms that are uncomfortable or causing you concern you should go see your Doctor, especially before you start trying for pregnancy. When you are thinking about trying to get pregnant, consider discussing any vaginal symptoms with your Doctor. The current research suggests that one day in the not- too-distant future there will be recommended probiotics specifically made for good vaginal health, that will likely benefit women trying for pregnancy.

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