Global WACh

November 13, 2019

Postdoctoral Fellow, Dr. Erica Lokken, joins Global WACh to study role of vaginal bacteria in HIV acquisition among Kenyan women

Global WACh is pleased to welcome new Postdoctoral Fellow, Dr. Erica Lokken, to our team at UW! Dr. Lokken successfully defended her PhD in Epidemiology dissertation in August and received a National Institute of Health F32 postdoctoral fellowship in October. This fellowship will support her long-term career goal to become an independent investigator conducting research that informs interventions to improve women’s sexual and reproductive health, including outcomes such as STI/HIV acquisition, fertility, and miscarriage. The three-year fellowship will allow Dr. Lokken to study how alterations in the vaginal microbiota may partly explain the increased risk of HIV acquisition among pregnant and postpartum women compared to non-pregnant women. Understanding the relationship between high-risk bacterial species and vaginal inflammation across the pregnancy and postpartum periods may inform the development of prevention strategies to reduce risks of reproductive health complications.

Dr. Lokken aims to develop vaginal bacterial profiles to describe distinct groups of women, based on collective concentrations of 20 bacterial species. This profiling will help explore whether distinct quantitative bacterial profiles are more strongly associated with a higher risk of HIV acquisition than concentrations of individual high-risk bacteria. Then, Dr. Lokken will characterize changes in concentrations of vaginal microbiota and mucosal cytokines (molecules that mediate and regulate inflammation in the body) associated with HIV acquisition across the preconception, pregnancy, and postpartum periods using data from an ongoing prospective study based in Nairobi and Mombasa, Kenya.

Dr. Lokken is working with a strong mentorship team comprised of Global WACh’s Dr. Grace John-Stewart, Dr. Scott McClelland (Medicine, Epidemiology, Global Health), Dr. John Kinuthia (University of Nairobi) and Drs. David Fredricks and Tim Randolph of Fred Hutch Cancer Research Center.