Currently, rodents, ferrets, dogs, house musk shrews and non-human primates are used to test for emesis (the side effect of nausea and/or vomiting) research. Emesis is reported as a possible side effect in approximately one third of medicines, including those involved in chemotherapy. If animals experience similar sensations, then testing drugs on them for emetic effects is likely to be unpleasant for them as well.
Professor Robin Williams from the School of Biological Sciences at Royal Holloway is leading a team of researchers looking at whether it is possible to use an amoeba to screen potential drugs for the likelihood to cause emesis. The researchers tested the amoeba with a range of substances that produce varying degrees of emesis and observed the organism’s behavioural response. Initial results have indicated that the amoeba shows a strong response to a number of bitter tasting compounds that can cause taste aversion and emesis in humans and/or laboratory animals.
Professor Williams said: “If this all proves successful then using a social amoeba to test new chemical compounds could result in a large reduction in the number of animals currently used in emetic liability tests.
“This would be good news for the animals but also for pharmaceutical companies in terms of reduced costs and faster initiation of clinical studies. A better understanding of the molecular mechanisms of nausea and vomiting could also benefit other areas of human medical treatment such as the treatment of cancer.”
The research is funded by Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW) 3Rs Liaison Group and is a collaboration with Prof Paul Andrews, St George’s University of London.
Royal Holloway, University of London