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Saturday, March 4,2000 (HealthSCOUT)

Study seeks to measure impact on the immune
system of sick children

By Robert Preidt HealthSCOUT Reporter



Press Article


Saturday, March 4,2000(HealthSCOUT) – Two California researchers hope to find out if there is more than magic in a child’s laughter.

In the first study to focus on sick children and adolescents with depressed immune systems, the researchers at UCLA’s Jonsson Cancer Center will try to determine what effects laughter has on pain and disease treatment.

“This is really the first type of research that really looks at children in a scientific way and looks at biologic mechanisms of action, “ says Dr. Lonnie Zeltzer, a UCLA cancer researcher, professor of Pediatrics and Anesthesiology, and director of the Pediatric Pain Program at the University’s Mattel Children’s Hospital. And associate director, Patients and Survivors Section, Division of cancer prevention and control, Jonsson Cancer Center.

She will head up the five year “Rx Laughter” study, which began in February, with Dr. Margaret Stuber, a cancer researcher, child psychiarist and professor in the Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences Department at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institutute.

“What we’re hoping to find is that laughter can really have a health benefit for children,” Stuber says.She notes there is already significant evidence that emotion affects health. “We know that stress has negative effects on health for both adults and children. And we have indicates that laughter makes a difference for adults,” Stuber says.

The study will be the first to focus on what makes healthy children laugh. They’ll be shown classic cartoons, comedy movies and television shows to see which ones produce loud laughs, grins or smiles. “The act of laughter may have a very different affect on the body than just finding something funny,” Zeltzer says.

The funniest shows will then be used to test physiological responses in healthy children by measuring their heart rate and other biologic functions as they laugh.

The final phase of the study will focus on showing young patients with cancer and AIDS the funny shows and monitoring their stress responses, including heart rate, blood pressure, palm sweats and levels of cortisol,la stress-related hormone. The researchers will look at the effect on various immune system factors.

If the laughter produces positive responses, the cartoons, TV shows asnd movies could be incorporated into the treatment for ill children to help them cope with the ordeal of treatment.

‘One of the things that’s been very frustrating to me in my work is that there’s a huge body of scientific work and literature about various ways we can help children get through illness, procedures, etc., but most of those have been very person-intensive, requiring 1-on-1 training of people in relaxation treatment and so on,” Stuber says.

Because they are both well-known, published and respected scientists, the two researchers say that their colleagues aren’t raising any eyebrows about this study.

“If we tried to do this study even five years ago, it probably would have had a lot more pooh-poohing than now,” Zeltzer says.

The idea for the “Rx Laughter” study was the brainchild of UCLA graduate Sherry Dunay Hilber, an entertainment industry executive, who had wondered about the physical and emotional impact of laughter, and approached the researchers with her suggestion.

Part of the study’s funding is a $75,000 grant from the cable TV network Comedy Central.

WHAT TO DO: Don’t worry, be happy. Feeling happy and optimistic seems to be good for you in general. A new study from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., says optimistic people live about 19 percent longer than pessimists. The report was published in the February issue of the Mayo Clinic Proceedings and can be read at the Mayo Clinic’s Web Site.

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