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Can Roller Coasters Remove Kidney Stones?

Newsweek logo Newsweek 9/14/2018 Katherine Hignett

File photo: Women ride a rollercoaster.: 9_14_Rollercoaster © Getty Images 9_14_Rollercoaster Judges have awarded this year’s coveted Ig Nobel Prize for medicine to researchers who investigated the kidney stone-passing potential of roller coasters.

Researchers thought the fast-paced, looping rides might help dislodge the dreaded mineral clumps, which are often very painful to pass.

Kidney stones are salt and mineral deposits that build up in the kidneys. Usually they travel out of the body through the urinary tract, but sometimes surgery is required to remove them. Although they don’t normally cause permanent damage, kidney stones can cause severe pain as they move through the body.

Researcher David Wartinger took a silicone model of a human renal system filled with urine and kidney stones on Walt Disney World’s Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in Orlando, Florida—a ride that rattles passengers from side to side, as well as up and down.

Sure enough, the ride helped ease along the passage of stones through the silicon urinary tract. Rear seats, Wartinger and colleague Marc Mitchell discovered, offered the best results.

The team considered using animal models, but eventually deemed them inappropriate for the research setting “owing to ambient temperature and the inappropriate display of such material in a family-friendly amusement park.”

Wartinger and Mitchell published their results in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association.

The Ig Nobel prize recognizes amusing but ultimately important research. This year it offered ten prizes in the categories of medicine, anthropology, biology, chemistry, medical education, literature, nutrition, peace, reproductive medicine and economics. Past winners include Basile Audoly and Sebastien Neukirch, who won 2006’s physics prize for their exploration of why spaghetti almost never seems to snap in two.

This year, winners included John Barry, Bruce Blank and Michel Boileau, who won the reproductive medicine prize for their innovative research into male sexual health. They used postage stamps to test penile function.

Lindie Hanyu Liang, Douglas Brown, Huiwen Lian, Samuel Hanig, D Lance Ferris and Lisa Keeping won the economics prize for their research into the effectiveness of using voodoo dolls on bosses.

Judges awarded the peace prize to Francisco Alonso, Cristina Esteban, Andrea Serge, Maria-Luisa Ballestar, Jaime Sanmartín, Constanza Calatayud and Beatriz Alamar for their analysis of road rage. The team tracked how often drivers shouted and cursed and probed their motivations and the effects of their behavior.

You can watch the entire prize ceremony—complete with skits, paper airplane deluges and even a mini-opera—below.

David Wartinger did not immediately respond to Newsweek’s request for comment.


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