On September 12, 2013, the Ig Nobel prize in medicine was awarded to a team of Asian scientists who studied the effect of opera music on heart transplant patients, using mice as test subjects. The Ig Nobel prize, awarded annually for the past 23 years in a ceremony held at Harvard University, is given in several scientific categories for research deemed "improbable." Past winners of the better-known Nobel prize confer the honors upon the Ig Nobel recipients.
Science humor magazine -- yes, there is one -- Annals of Improbable Research organizes the Ig Nobel awards each year, assisted by the Harvard-Radcliffe Science Fiction Association and the Harvard-Radcliffe Society of Physics Students. Although the award ceremony involves a great deal of humor -- the audience throws paper airplanes at the stage in Sanders Theater -- the prize-giving draws attention to research with potentially important implications. As quoted in the Crimson, Eric Warrant (one of the winners of a joint prize in biology and astronomy) said, "It's a serious piece of work, but the humor surrounding the Ig Nobel prize ceremony helps bring it out to the general public."
Three recipients of the prize in medicine, Masateru Uchiyama, Xiangyuan Jin, and Masanori Niimi, accepted the Ig Nobel prize on behalf of their research team. These individuals are affiliated with the Department of Cardiovascular Surgery and the Department of Immunology at Juntendo University Hospital in Tokyo, Japan; the Department of Surgery at Teikyo University in Tokyo; and the Department of Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery at the Fourth Affiliated Hospital of Harbin Medical University in Harbin, China. Their work was published in the March 2012 issue of the Journal of Cardiothoracic Surgery.
What discovery earned these scientists their prize? It appears that mice who listen to opera -- specifically, La Traviata -- and to classical music (such as Mozart) have significantly prolonged survival of transplanted hearts. Additionally, these mice have superior immune reactions to transplants (suppressed IL-2 production and increased IL-4 and IL-10 production). Given the low cost of this intervention, it seems worthwhile to attempt reproduction of these results in other species, perhaps even humans.