Research in Focus: Battling Bacterial Vaginosis

As part of #BiofilmWeek, we’re highlighting interesting and exciting biofilm research being undertaken across our NBIC partner research institutions by early career researchers, PhD students and our Interdisciplinary Research Fellows.

We interviewed Ryan Kean, Lecturer in Clinical Microbiology from Glasgow Caledonian University. Ryan tells us all about his research project which looks at novel therapeutics for Bacterial Vaginosis (BV).

Tell us about your project

The title of my project is ‘Targeted Protein Payload Dispersal of Vaginal Biofilms’. By trade I am a Mycologist, and I study fungal infections, but one of these fungal infections which I have done quite a bit of research on is recurrent Vulvovaginal candidiasis and looking at the role of biofilms within this infection.

The project has both academic and industrial collaborators. Academically, it expands on a long-standing collaboration with the University of Glasgow , where we have been working on Vulvovaginal candidiasis together for five years. Industrially, we are also collaborating with CC Biotech Ltd, a London based synthetic biology start-up. Collectively the project consists of a multidisciplinary team, combining expertise in biofilms and microbiology but also biofilm modelling, synthetic biology and medicinal chemistry.

The project directly relates to the health sector, but the mechanism of action of the therapy and the development of our biofilm model, has some scope in other sectors, such as personal care. Additionally, we hope to create an analytical tool, for evaluating community dynamics within biofilms, so this has scope to far exceed clinical microbiology and has applications for different fields such as biofouling and environmental microbiology.  

We’re currently in the process of getting all of the paperwork signed and materials transferred between collaborators so we are hoping to get the project started in the next month or so.  

Bacterial Vaginosis
Scanning electron micrograph of polymicrobial fungal-bacterial biofilm.

What is the current situation within the sector?

BV is the most common vaginal infection in women of a reproductive age, so it effects between 15-50% of women within this age range and this estimates around about 30% in certain westernised countries. BV can be managed with antimicrobials such as Metronidazole and clindamycin, however, reoccurrence is common. One of the main reasons for this is through the formation of tolerant biofilms on the vaginal mucosa, and this reduces the efficacy and it means that antimicrobials cannot penetrate these vaginal biofilms and therefore go on to clear the infection. Therefore there’s an unmet need like many fields of infectious diseases for the development of novel antimicrobials and in the case of BV these are looking for antimicrobials which have a particular emphasis on targeting a single pathogen or multiple pathogens, so therefore you do not go on to disrupt the beneficial bacteria which are also surviving within the microbiome of the infection. Based on epidemiology studies of BV patients, the market size for western countries like Europe or USA is greater than 11 million symptomatic patients, estimated at £425m value for treatments, and £2.5bn for the greater than 70 million Asymptomatic carriers of the infection. 


How will this research impact on the public?

This research project can provide some marketable and informing data on the anti-biofilm efficacy of these novel antimicrobials which will be tested in these pre-clinical biofilm studies and therefore this has the potential in the future to translate to subsequent clinical studies. Another part of the project aims to develop a novel multi-species biofilm model which is clinically representative of BV so this is something which is missing from the BV research field and therefore it has the potential application as a test bed for both academic and industrial sectors


Do you need to overcome any challenges in order to achieve impact? 

Given that BV is the most common vaginal infection in women of a childbearing age, alternative therapies which could stop this reoccurrence and the potential more serious consequences of infection, has the potential to alleviate some of the societal and economic problems. For our multi-species model, like with all developmental experiments there will be some R&D required in generating the model. In our collaborative team, we have combined experience in translating microbiome-based research in infections into these clinically representative biofilms models. Therefore, we already have an idea and an understanding of some potential experimental mitigations which we might have to put in place for our model, based on our previous work.


Have you received any funding to support your work?

The project was recently awarded funding from the fourth NBIC Proof of concept call, which we are very grateful for. For my own personal objectives, this is a pretty significant milestone in my career. Being an early career researcher and beginning my own independent research pathway, it’s really great to see that NBIC supports the progression of the early career researchers in the biofilm community. The funding will importantly provide some money for a research assistant for six months, so an extra set of hands in the lab, to help me deliver some of the milestones in the project and will also provide some money for the consumables and equipment which will be needed throughout.


Have you been involved in any public engagement and outreach activities related to your work?

Public engagement and outreach is a key part of my job role, and something I find very rewarding. I was part of a project alongside the University of Glasgow, which was awarded a public engagement grant from NBIC, titled ‘Bringing Biofilms to the Masses.’ This funding was used to purchase a sponsored stand at the Eurobiofilms 2019 conference in Glasgow, and we also ran a public engagement session as part of the conference programme. From the event, we got an idea from the biofilm community of various public engagement activities and were able to generate a database. We also run small sessions in schools, particularly in Glasgow and the west of Scotland, as well as small sessions at the Glasgow Science Centre.

Find out more

If you are interested in learning more about this project and would like to connect with Ryan please contact NBIC at


Ryan Kean, Lecturer in Clinical Microbiology from Glasgow Caledonian University.

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