Verslag Rosanne Hertzberger Kemp Stipendium 2022

Last year I was very happy to be awarded the Bertus Kemp-stipendium. I received 20.000 euro support from the GNHG for the study of alpha-glucosidases of vaginal bacteria. The vaginal environment of reproductive-age women is unique amongst vertebrates in several aspects: it has a low pH due to high levels of lactate (~100-150 mM), it has abundant glycogen levels and its microbial community is dominated by Lactobacillus species. In recent years, more evidence has emerged that the vaginal microbiome is associated with reproductive and sexual health. Women with a Lactobacillus crispatus microbiome are at lower risk of vaginal infections and sexually communicable infections. In addition, vaginal Lactobacillus crispatus is inversely associated with more serious health outcomes such as subfertility, preterm birth and persistent HPV infection.  

Glycogen levels are reduced in women who have Lactobacillus-depleted microbial states which could be explained by the interplay between host factors (glycogen synthesis) and bacterial factors (glycogen breakdown). Little is understood about the role of bacterial glycogen utilization and the difference between bacterial species.  

We proposed experiments to use mass spectrometry and activity-based protein probes to perform a targeted purification of these alpha-glucosidases. The Bertus Kemp stipendium meant that we were able to start a novel collaboration between the lab of Antonella Marangoni and University of Bologna. We have used a meaningful part of the budget to support and enable experiments by Sara Morselli, a PhD student to purify the alpha-glucosidases of Gardnerella vaginalis, one of the members of the dysbiotic vaginal microbiome. Furthermore, we utilized the budget to expand our existing collaboration with Piet Cools lab in Ghent University.  

The Bertus Kemp stipendium comes highly recommended for early career researchers who have the ambition to expand their research programs and engage in fruitful collaborations.