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By Francesca Donlan
The Desert Sun
May 17th, 2000

If an apple a day keeps the doctor away, what could a big belly laugh do? In a mix of comedy and science, medical researchers at UCLA's Jonsson Cancer Center are going to find out. They have launched a five year study to determine if a good giggle can improve the immune system.

The study, called Rx Laughter™, involves showing classic comedies to children and adolescents suffering from serious illness. If a positive biological response to laughter is found, chuckling could be heard in the unlikeliest places.

Sherry Dunay Hilber, a UCLA graduate and recent network television executive (ABC and CBS) created and developed Rx Laughter. She also raised a $75,000 grant from the cable tv network, Comedy Central. Ms. Hilber spearheads the project as it's Creator, Executive Director and Executive Producer.

"I am not a physician, but I have seen firsthand the pain and sadness in hospitals", Hilber said. "Watching a funny video is not going to cure them, but it helps them feel less alone. I think that the bigger umbrella about Rx Laughter is that it's not just about laughter, it's about a spiritual component - finding a way to have a higher quality of life when things are stressful."

Dr. Lonnie Zeltzer sees a lot of kids in pain. As the UCLA cancer researcher and Director of the Pediatric Pain Program at the Mattel Children's Hospital at UCLA, she will head up the medical research. "It can have tremendous effects on the healing process in general," Zeltzer said.

Descendants of classic comedians are also involved in Rx Laughter: Bill Marx, son of Harpo Marx, will join other offsprings of classic comedians including Christopher Chaplin and Josephine Chaplin, son & daughter of Charlie Chaplin; Chris Costello, Daughter of Lou Costello; Ronald J. Fields, grandson of W.C. Fields, and others.

Marx, of Palm Springs, said that his 92 year old mother is doing well after recovering from cancer and three bouts of double pneumonia. "Laughter is part of the reason for her recovery", he said. "She is still hanging in so well because we laugh like hell. Every day, we look for the absurd side of things." Marx said that his mother howls so hard that her stomach hurts. He recently toured UCLA's Pediatric Center with his wife, and met some of the kids struggling with serious illness. "The more laughter, the more time is spent taking their mind off of their problems. There is no way that you can say anything bad about making people laugh", Marx said.

For more information about Rx Laughter", see the www.rxlaughter.org website.



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