By applying small amounts of electricity to part of the brain, scientists have effectively suppressed the feeling of motion sickness. Matthew Stock reports.
It's enough to make you sick... but that's just the point for Dr Qadeer Arshad from Imperial College London. He's developing a new treatment to suppress the brain signals that trigger motion sickness. It's an idea he hit upon while investigating why people with balance problems seem to be unaffected by many of the symptoms. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DR QADEER ARSHAD (pron. Kad-ear Arsh-add), CLINICAL SCIENTIST AT CHARING CROSS HOSPITAL & LECTURER FROM THE DEPARTMENT OF MEDICINE AT IMPERIAL COLLEGE LONDON, SAYING: "And so we developed a separate line of research; a way of using brain stimulation to suppress the signals from the inner ear and the brain. And so we thought that if we suppress signals at the level of the brain from the inner ear, then this would be highly effective against motion sickness." Most people experience that queasy feeling on a boat or rollercoaster - but for around three in ten people it's much more severe, possibly leading to dizziness, nausea and vomiting. (SOUNDBITE) (English) PROFESSOR MICHAEL GRESTY, IMPERIAL COLLEGE LONDON, SAYING: "The reason that we can't understand these motions; the brain if you like can't understand these motions, is that there's continual conflict between what is upright and whether you should lean to balance yourself in the environment or whether you're actually experiencing a sideways acceleration force. During experiments, test subjects' vulnerability was first established on a motion simulator set to a frequency that is particularly nauseagenic. This was repeated with electrodes attached to their heads for about 10 minutes, a technique known as transcranial direct current stimulation. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DR QADEER ARSHAD (pron. Kad-ear Arsh-add), CLINICAL SCIENTIST AT CHARING CROSS HOSPITAL & LECTURER FROM THE DEPARTMENT OF MEDICINE AT IMPERIAL COLLEGE LONDON, SAYING: "When we used the test condition, we found that it took longer for the individual to develop motion sickness and that they also recovered faster." And, they say, it's completely safe... (SOUNDBITE) (English) PROFESSOR MICHAEL GRESTY, IMPERIAL COLLEGE LONDON, SAYING: "For these very small amounts of electricity that you're putting through the brain there are no reported unwanted side effects or interactions." After more testing, the researchers say it could eventually lead to a consumer device such as a cap or headset, powered via the users' smart phone. A prospect which could have motion sickness sufferers spinning with delight.