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J Med Microbiol. 2011 Jun;60(Pt 6):828-37. doi: 10.1099/jmm.0.028225-0. Epub 2011 Mar 10.

Microbial biofilms on the surface of intravaginal rings worn in non-human primates.

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Department of Chemistry, Oak Crest Institute of Science, 2275 E. Foothill Boulevard, Pasadena, CA, USA.


Millions of intravaginal rings (IVRs) are used by women worldwide for contraception and for the treatment of vaginal atrophy. These devices also are suitable for local and systemic sustained release drug delivery, notably for antiviral agents in human immunodeficiency virus pre-exposure prophylaxis. Despite the widespread use of IVRs, no studies have examined whether surface-attached bacterial biofilms develop in vivo, an important consideration when determining the safety of these devices. The present study used scanning electron microscopy, fluorescence in situ hybridization and confocal laser scanning microscopy to study biofilms that formed on the surface of IVRs worn for 28 days by six female pig-tailed macaques, an excellent model organism for the human vaginal microbiome. Four of the IVRs released the nucleotide analogue reverse transcriptase inhibitor tenofovir at a controlled rate and the remaining two were unmedicated. Large areas of the ring surfaces were covered with monolayers of epithelial cells. Two bacterial biofilm phenotypes were found to develop on these monolayers and both had a broad diversity of bacterial cells closely associated with the extracellular material. Phenotype I, the more common of the two, consisted of tightly packed bacterial mats approximately 5 µm in thickness. Phenotype II was much thicker, typically 40 µm, and had an open architecture containing interwoven networks of uniform fibres. There was no significant difference in biofilm thickness and appearance between medicated and unmedicated IVRs. These preliminary results suggest that bacterial biofilms could be common on intravaginal devices worn for extended periods of time.

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