Doctors win prestigious award for research on ice cream for chemotherapy related mucositis

Doctors who conducted a study showing ice cream can relieve chemotherapy related oral inflammation have been honoured with one of science’s most sought-after awards: an Ig Nobel prize.

The Polish team also found ice cream was just as effective and easier to tolerate than ice cryotherapy at preventing the onset of oral mucositis, a common side effect in people who have undergone preventive chemotherapy.

The finding came after they gave ice creams to 52 patients receiving high-dose conditioning chemotherapy with melphalan prior to autologous haematopoietic stem cell transplantation at a hospital in Warsaw. Participants were allowed to choose any ice cream from a range donated by the hospital’s café.

Publishing their results in Nature Scientific Reports, the team (link here) found just 29% of those who ate the sweet treat developed oral mucositis, less than half the proportion who developed it in a control group without cryotherapy (59%).

The group was one of 10 to be recognised at this year’s Ig Nobel awards for research that “first makes you laugh, then makes you think” – not to be confused with the prestigious Nobel Prizes coming up next month (video below).

The awards, presented by a science humour magazine called the Annals of Improbable Research, have been given out annually for unusual or trivial achievements in scientific research since 1991.

At a virtual ceremony on Friday, each recipient received a paper trophy and a Zimbabwean $10-trillion note, no longer legal tender and currently trading for about $5.20 on eBay.

But the study’s lead author Dr Marcin Jasiński of the Medical University of Warsaw maintained the research was no laughing matter.

“You can prevent mucositis by sucking ice cubes, but who wants to suck ice cubes for many hours? We discovered that actually you can use ice cream to cool the mucosal tissue and get the same effect,” he said in a video broadcast to the event.

“So we would like to thank our restaurant for providing us with free ice cream for this work. And, remember, ice cream to prevent mucositis is not an ignoble joke, it’s actually evidence-based medicine.”

The prize for research in applied cardiology went to an international team who showed that the heart rates of a couple on a blind date synchronise when there is a romantic spark.

The study was performed by cognitive psychologists who built ‘dating cabins’ at music festivals and other events and found 140 young singles willing to go on a blind date in them.

During the date, the researchers tracked the participants’ eye movements and measured their skin conductance – the transpiration on their fingers– and heart rate. Like the heart rate, skin conductance is a measure of nervous system activation, they wrote in Nature Human Behaviour (link here).

The research showed that the heart rate of the singles who were attracted to their dating partner synchronised with that of their date. If one person’s heart rate increased so too did their date’s, and if their heart rate decreased, so too did their partner’s. The skin conductance followed a similar pattern.

The study’s lead author Dr Eliska Prochazkova (PhD) of Leiden University in The Netherlands said there was also some evidence of the phenomenon in longer-term couples.

“Lots of research has been done that they tend to synchronise during good moments but also when they are fighting,” she said.

She added: “Our research really does fit the criteria. You may laugh at first but when you realise that a romantic click doesn’t come from arousal and body language alone, it gets you thinking.”

Co-author Professor Mariska Kret, from the same university, said the team was now planning a follow-up study.

“I’m really interested in the effects on human behaviour, decision making, trust and romantic interest,” she said.

“Humans synchronise on some many levels that they are not even aware of and it’s also influencing their decision processes so it’s quite fascinating.”

Other awards included the physics prize for showing why ducklings swim in a line formation, while a South American team received the biology prize for studying whether and how constipation effects the mating prospects of scorpions.

The peace prize was awarded to a team who developed an algorithm to predict whether gossipers were telling the truth or lying.

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