How does the service really work?
"Women would sign up for this product like a subscription. When women initially sign up, we’ll send them a kit [for] a self-collected vaginal sample. It’s really easy and not that invasive or uncomfortable. Then, they send it back to us and we do genetic sequencing and analysis. [From that] we’ll design a probiotic that complements the community [of bacteria that the woman] already has, and then, as we go on categorizing microbes and their specific antibacterial functions, we can introduce more of those microbes that create compounds that are lethal to pathogens...We would send [each woman a personalized] probiotic at the beginning of every month.
What was your reaction to the media's coverage of SweetPeach?
"I’m obviously opposed to the idea of vaginas smelling like peaches, but at the same time, I was reading comments from women on these articles saying, 'I would get this product if I could.’ It’s a weird thing where, as a feminist, I have to step back and say, ‘If this product were available on the market and it was safe and tested and women had access to it, they obviously should have the right to buy it and use it.’
Where did the idea for SweetPeach come from?
"I was in college studying biology, but meanwhile suffering from really, really terrible recurrent UTIs almost every month...and it was getting really costly. Almost every month I’d have to go to a clinic and pay to be prescribed antibiotics. And, every time, my antibiotics seemed to get more and more expensive...It was getting really terrible, so I spoke to a bunch of women in my family and it turned out I wasn’t the first Lady Hutchinson to suffer from genital infections. So, I decided that I would do as much research as I could about vaginal regulation, and how we ward off pathogens from causing infections, and what sort of defense mechanisms our body has in place to keep things from happening. I discovered the human microbiome and became totally fascinated."
What is the microbiome?
"It’s like another ecosystem inside of our bodies. There are microbes with really specific and unique functions that have co-evolved with us to prevent pathogens...The [vaginal] microbiota is the community of beneficial bacteria that reside in a woman. Research has shown that they can be completely different from woman to woman, and those are differences we need to take into consideration if we want to design probiotics that are really effective."
What is a healthy vaginal microbiome like?
"There is no such thing as [one] healthy vaginal microbiome, because even in an individual woman it’s constantly in a state of flux. It changes over the course of her life, and her hormones play a huge role in which bacteria are going to thrive at any given point... I looked at the vaginal microbiome [as an] innovative solution... I just thought, 'Why not focus on it some more and try to translate it into something women can use?'"
What kind of ethical issues do you think SweetPeach's sample collection might run into?
"It really is data collection. The world is really wary of that right now, and that’s not totally unwarranted. I understand that there’s hesitation, but in my mind there’s no reason for me to want to do anything invasive or unlawful with anyone's data. The women give us a sample, we make sense of it, and then we give it back. At no point do we want to take people’s information away from them. It’s more about making this information about their own bodies available to them.