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Antwerp University Research center for Equilibrium and Aerospace  
AUREA
The main task of the Antwerp University Research center for Equilibrium and Aerospace (AUREA) is to determine the true cause of dizziness in patients with vertigo complaints. Since also astronauts and pilots encounter vertigo, for these professionals too, we developed during the past 2 decades methods to better understand, diagnose, and counteract vertigo when it occurs.
 
The human equilibrium system – also called vestibular system - serves to detect head movement as well as gravity, in order to ensure gaze stabilization, maintenance of the upright position and balanced locomotion. Hereto, movement and gravity transducers in the inner ear (the semicircular canals and otoliths) provide information that is processed in the brain together with visual and proprioceptive (related to muscle and tendons) information. When the vestibular system fails, complaints such as dizziness, vertigo, unsteadiness and blurred vision emerge. Eventually, nausea and vomiting can occur in acute problems, as well as falling.
By the age of 70 years, out of the 30 % of people suffering from dizziness in general, about 11 percent of the women and 4% of men have a history of dizziness due to a problem in the equilibrium system in the inner ear. In 40% of the cases, vestibular vertigo results in sick leave and avoidance to leave home. (Neuhauser et al. Arch Intern Med. 2008;168(19):2118-2124)

“Testing the 5 detectors of the equilibrium system is a big challenge”
The fact that the inner ear comprises five detectors for movements makes it more complicated to determine where exactly the problem occurs. In AUREA we developed and optimized new methods to investigate each of these 5 detectors. Only a hand full vestibular labs in the world currently perform all these tests on a routine base.
The breakthrough in our research is largely due to the fact AUREA is embedded in the University department of Ear Nose Throat, Head & Neck Surgery of the Antwerp University Hospital (UZA), where over 20.000 patients per year are investigated. The ENT department is a tertiary referral centre for otoneurology and skull base surgery. In AUREA, over 800 vertigo patients a year are investigated with different vestibular function tests. Full audiological data are obtained for the patients and several patients are further investigated with MRI and CT scans, biochemical and immunological analyses. Combining all this information about a given patient, together with the findings from the newly developed vestibular function tests, allowed us to get more insight in the physiology, as well as to optimize and fine tune several tests. That is why NASA and ESA funded our research for countermeasures against space motion sickness and other issues related to neurosensory disturbances in astronauts. So,through several grants by the Belgian and Flemish Fund for Scientific Research (NFWO-FWO), the Belgian Science policy (BELSPO), ESA and NSBRI (NASA), and both the University of Antwerp and the University Hospital of Antwerp, AUREA has been able to build up an expertise on the in-depth study of the human vestibular system by means of an extensive battery of test equipment as well as by the interdisciplinary staff of researchers.