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£300,000 funding for nausea research

Researchers at Queen Mary, University of London, have been awarded almost £300,000 to get to the bottom of why we feel nauseous, a condition which cannot be controlled in many cases.

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Nausea and feeling the urge to vomit, is poorly understood by scientists. The sensation is often associated with motion sickness in a car or boat, it is also a common in pregnant women, a symptom of illness and a side-effect of many medicines. Prolonged suffering can lead to dehydration and dramatic weight loss.

This new project aims to identify a reliable way to identify the nauseous feeling in human subjects, which will allow both the replacement of animals for studying nausea and the refinement of studies where animal use is unavoidable.

Recipient of the grant, Professor Qasim Aziz, said: "I am delighted to obtain this funding, it will allow us to study the reasons why some people are more susceptible to nausea than others. We will also for the first time identify which parts of the brain are responsible of the nausea sensation."

Research in this area is largely neglected because health experts find it hard to agree on an objective way to measure nausea. Attempts to model nausea in rats have also been unsuccessful, partly due to the problems identifying and measuring a subjective human sensation in animals.

Professor Aziz and the neurogastroenterology group will conduct a study to see how human volunteers respond while watching a rapidly moving image on a video screen; designed to give the viewer motion sickness.

Scientists record how nauseous the person says they feel during the experiment and compare this with measurements of nerve activity in the gut, levels of certain hormones, and brain activity using fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) - a brain imaging technique that highlights which parts of the brain are in use at a given time.

Professor Aziz said: "The information we hope to discover will feed back into animal studies so we can more accurately monitor what they are feeling and minimise their discomfort. This work will eventually lead to better targeted treatments for nausea and will also help to identify patients who are likely to be more susceptible to nausea following certain treatments."

This new knowledge will aid pharmaceutical development. For example testing can be terminated earlier to avoid causing animal suffering and unacceptable levels of nausea in humans. In addition, the discovery of the human mechanisms behind the experience of nausea will advance basic scientific knowledge.

The grant was awarded this week by the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs), as part of a £4.5m for 13 new projects that aim to replace, reduce or refine the use of animals in research.

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