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Researchers receive funding to investigate use and safety of anti-nausea drug in pregnancy

Wednesday 28 July 2021 10:39am

Sarah Donald and Lianne Parkin image
Dr Sarah Donald and Associate Professor Lianne Parkin.

Associate Professor Lianne Parkin and colleagues from the Pharmacoepidemiology Research Network have been awarded $1.2 million from the Health Research Council of New Zealand to investigate the use and safety of an anti-nausea drug during pregnancy.

About 70 per cent of women experience nausea and vomiting during the first three months of pregnancy (the first trimester). For some women, severe and persistent vomiting leads to serious dehydration that requires hospitalisation.

There are several prescription drugs which are used to treat severe nausea and vomiting during pregnancy. One of these drugs, ondansetron, was originally developed to treat chemotherapy-induced nausea and it is not specifically licensed to treat nausea and vomiting in pregnancy. Despite this, its use during pregnancy is rising internationally and in New Zealand.

“This is concerning because there is uncertainty about the safety of the drug, including whether it increases the risk of congenital anomalies such as heart defects and oral clefts (cleft lip and/or palate)”, says co-investigator Dr Sarah Donald.

“The aims of our study are to examine trends in the use of ondansetron and determine whether it increases the risk of congenital abnormalities, as well as other negative infant outcomes and adverse pregnancy outcomes.”

The research will be based on the New Zealand Pregnancy Cohort, which was developed by Dr Donald and colleagues.

Project details:

Utilisation and safety of ondansetron during pregnancy: a national cohort study.
$1.2 million, 36 months


  • Associate Professor Lianne Parkin (Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, Dunedin School of Medicine)
  • Dr Sarah Donald (Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, Dunedin School of Medicine)
  • Professor Katrina Sharples (Department of Mathematics and Statistics)
  • Mr David Barson (Department of Preventive and Social Medicine)
  • Leanne Te Karu (School of Pharmacy)
  • Dr Karyn Maclennan (Department of Preventive and Social Medicine)
  • Mrs Diana Phone (Waitematā District Health Board; School of Pharmacy)
  • Ms Hedwig van Asten (Department of Women’s and Children’s Health)
  • Associate Professor Michael Stitely (Department of Women’s and Children’s Health)

For more information, contact:

Associate Professor Lianne Parkin
Department of Preventive and Social Medicine
Dunedin School of Medicine
University of Otago
Tel +64 3 479 8425