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29 July 2020, 3pm EDT (7pm UTC / 8pm BST)
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Postdoctoral research fellow, Vanderbilt University
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This year’s Ig Nobel Peach Prize was jointly awarded to: Ghada A. bin Saif, Alexandru Papoiu, Liliana Banari, Francis McGlone, Shawn G. Kwatra, Yiong-Huak Chan, and Gil Yosipovitch, for trying to measure the pleasurability of scratching an itch. The researchers represent the UK, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, and the USA.
REFERENCE: “The Pleasurability of Scratching an Itch: A Psychophysical and Topographical Assessment,” G.A. bin Saif, A.D.P. Papoiu, L. Banari, F. McGlone, S.G. Kwatra, Y.-H. Chan and G. Yosipovitch, British Journal of Dermatology, vol. 166, no. 5, 2012, pp. 981-985.
The 10 Ig Nobel Prizes awarded yearly by Improbable Research honour achievements that make people LAUGH, and then THINK.
Prof. Francis McGlone was unable to attend the ceremony, but delivered an acceptance speech via recorded video, and also spoke to The Guardian who reported on the awards:
Britain’s pride was upheld by Francis McGlone, a researcher at Liverpool John Moores University, who shared the Ig Nobel peace prize. As part of an international team, McGlone helped map out which parts of the body are most pleasurable to scratch. The ankles ranked highest, the researchers found, and then the back and forearm.
“I was over the moon when I heard. It’s nice for all of us. It’s an honour,” McGlone said on hearing he had won. “The thing that’s fascinated me for a long while now is why is scratching an itch so bloody nice?”
But there is a serious side to the research, he said. “People always laugh about itching, but chronic itch is devastating. People with chronic itch will scratch until it bleeds because the pain is preferable to the itching.”
By understanding which parts of the body are most prone to itch, and those which are most susceptible to relief, scientists hope to find new treatments for the condition. McGlone, who could not attend the ceremony, accepted the award in a video message recorded with a homunculus on his shoulder.
You can watch the whole ceremony online – (or skip to the Peace Prize award)
Poppy Sebag-Montefiore lived in China for five years between 1999 and 2007. She worked in the BBC’s Beijing Bureau as a news producer and a culture and arts reporter.
In this article published in the most recent issue of Granta (#146 – The Politics of Feeling), Poppy reflects on touch, culture and society – featuring insight and conversations with Prof. Francis McGlone, and her visit to the SomAffect lab.
… Francis McGlone’s work centres around nerve receptors in our skin called C-tactile afferents. They’ve only been recently discovered in humans. They lie within our hairy skin, and are particularly concentrated in our back, trunk, scalp, face and forearms. They respond to slow and light stroking. …
Since its launch in January 2018, Dr. Ranjan Chatterjee’s ‘Feel Better, Live More’ podcast has grown rapidly to become the Number 1 health podcast in the UK. It regularly tops the iTunes charts, has been downloaded over 2 million times.
The latest episode (#45), released on 16/01/2019, features SomAffect’s Francis McGlone.
Just published, and already making headlines, is our new open-access paper in Current Biology.
SomAffect’s Francis McGlone and Susannah Walker (LJMU) have been working closely in collaboration with Rebecca Slater’s lab (University of Oxford) on this study which shows that stroking touch reduces infant neural (EEG) responses to pinpricks & clinical heel lance.
Professor McGlone said of the study: “This is the result of 4 years collaboration between the authors, which provides further evidence of the importance of C-Tactile afferents in early life, and a new take on the much revered Gate Control theory.“
A subclass of C fibre sensory neurons found in hairy skin are activated by gentle touch  and respond optimally to stroking at ∼1–10 cm/s, serving a protective function by promoting affiliative behaviours. In adult humans, stimulation of these C-tactile (CT) afferents is pleasant, and can reduce pain perception . Touch-based techniques, such as infant massage and kangaroo care, are designed to comfort infants during procedures, and a modest reduction in pain-related behavioural and physiological responses has been observed in some studies . Here, we investigated whether touch can reduce noxious-evoked brain activity. We demonstrate that stroking (at 3 cm/s) prior to an experimental noxious stimulus or clinical heel lance can attenuate noxious-evoked brain activity in infants. CT fibres may represent a biological target for non-pharmacological interventions that modulate pain in early life.
Deniz Gursul, Sezgi Goksan, Caroline Hartley, Gabriela Schmidt Mellado, Fiona Moultrie, Amy Hoskin, Eleri Adams, Gareth Hathway, Susannah Walker, Francis McGlone, Rebeccah Slater, Stroking modulates noxious-evoked brain activity in human infants, Current Biology, Volume 28, Issue 24, 2018.
In November 2017, the pharmaceutical company Roche hosted NeuroSense, an event that aimed to “explore the way the brain uses the five senses to understand the world” – as part of their “Future-proofing Healthcare” series. (More details here: https://somaffect.org/2017/11/future-proofing-healthcare-neurosense-2nd-november-free-event/ )
SomAffect’s Professor Francis McGlone was among the speakers invited to present. Watch the presentation here:
You can read more about the event here, on the Roche website, and watch a number of presentations from the event.
The Autumn 2017 edition of the BNA Bulletin (free to all British Neuroscience Association Members!) which has just landed on the doormats, in-trays and inboxes of over 2000 people features a 2 page article on C-Tactile fibres, touch, and the work of SomAffect / LJMU Professor Francis McGlone.
… “The fast nerves have dominated our understanding of touch” … “But that’s the boring stuff. The rest of the body, that’s where the C-tactile fibres are.” …
C-tactile fibres in hairy skin, specialised for responding to gentle stroking, could be playing a key role in development of the social brain.
… “It doesn’t matter what story you tell, the nerve fibres have worked it out.” …
© The British Neuroscience Association Ltd
Melanie Reid MBE is an award-winning Times journalist whose weekly column for The Times, ‘Spinal Column’, is about disability and her life as a disabled person – Melanie is tetraplegic after breaking her neck and back in a riding accident.
On November 25 2017, she wrote a column on the benefits of tender touch, in part as a response to the growing concerns about “inappropriate touch” following a number of high-profile revelations of harassment.
In it, she quotes from research into the effects of touch, her own experiences, and conversations with SomAffect’s Francis McGlone, raising many of the issues covered at IASAT2017.
The article is reproduced below; © Times Newspapers Ltd. / Melanie Reid.
“People like me aren’t too fragile to be touched. We long for physical contact – just like you”
Weeks pass, every one bearing some fresh, sad harvest of accusation. He touched me! My leg was stroked! My teacher touched my arm – it’s abuse! In our rush to condemn a few creeps, we are universally demonising something that is vital to us: human contact.
And I sit in my chair, my metal stockade, fenced off from touch, despairing at how we cheapen and threaten something so precious. Since I last wrote about this, I have seen touch become synonymous with assault and abuse. This is tragic. We have to combat it.
Experts are appalled how touch-averse we are becoming. Professor Francis McGlone, a neuroscientist at Liverpool John Moores University, told me he fears teachers, carers and adoptive parents are now running scared.
Dave Hewett, a specialist in communication, sent me a moving account of how adults with multiple disabilities and very restricted motor ability will play together if allowed. At one enlightened centre, three young women and two young men, none of whom could speak, were regularly hoisted from their wheelchairs and lowered into a large, soft corner area, very close to each other. In slow motion, they started to roll, pat, stroke, prod and push each other. They became noisy. They obviously had a wonderful time.
The students had known each other since they were children. First the staff had noticed how they reached out to each other if their chairs were accidently parked close together – normally, they weren’t. The staff then tried putting them together on cushions, monitoring them carefully, and were amazed at the result.
For people with profound learning difficulties, for anyone who lives in a wheelchair – and indeed, if the present madness continues, for every one of us – experts now acknowledge a real danger of social deprivation, of being the “untouched”. Strapped behind physical barriers, the disabled especially can seem too fragile, awkward and physically unyielding, and may only be touched in functional ways. Many are only pushed, pulled, lifted, tightened, loosened, dabbed, wiped, changed, fed, scraped. Can you imagine anything worse than a lifetime of only ever being touched briskly and efficiently? I inhabit the fringes of that. It’s a barren place.
Please, disregard the gropers. Remember instead the stories about touching that really matter: the study that showed how premature babies who are stroked, compared with those who weren’t, put on 50 per cent more weight, were able to leave hospital six days earlier, and a year later had better mental and physical abilities. This research was perfectly framed by the recent case of the premature twins, struggling for breath in separate incubators, who on their mother’s pleading were reunited. They immediately put their arms around each other and began, dramatically, to thrive. They had been starving for touch. We forget that without nurture and touch, or when locked in orphanages, babies die. And adults falter.
Evidence is everywhere. Patients who are touched by a nurse the day before an operation decrease their subjective and objective level of stress. Gentle stroking lowers blood pressure and increases pain thresholds, and can protect the brain from stroke damage. Sports teams that touch more win more – players on NBA basketball teams who spent time in celebratory fist bumps, high fives or half-hugs early in the season could predict an improved performance months later. And what is the success of the spa industry based on, if not our craving for touch?
Rather thrillingly, Professor McGlone, with colleagues in Sweden, has identified touch-sensitive nerves, called c-tactile afferents (CT), which register emotional touch rather than “sensing” touch. We carry these nerves on hairy bits of skin – our forearms and back, always hungry for a gentle caress or other so-called light or innocuous touch. Touch deprivation, he says, is the lack of CT – emotional touch.
And it’s the glue that binds all social mammals together. Touch is primal – it helps us forge connections and construct a sense of self, makes us aware of our own bodies and allows us to relate to people. It’s possible, as with the premature babies, it is linked to survival itself.
So bugger the revival of age-old puritanism. Hug everyone who looks like they need it. Dance, link arms, hold hands. And hold on to the wonderful image of those disabled adults, rolling on the floor twice a week, prodding each other with joy and laughter.
SomAffect’s research with collaborators into gentle touch in premature infants has been featured in an article by the NewScientist by Linda Geddes.
While many premature babies experience pain, McGlone thinks that it is exposure to gentle touch that really matters. There’s mounting evidence that a set of nerves called c-tactile fibres are activated by soft caresses, and might provide a scaffold for the developing social brain. “These preterm infants have a highly developed c-tactile system, and I believe that the way the brain wires up its sense of self is critically dependent on this system feeding information in,” McGlone says.
LJMU Neuroscience Professor Francis McGlone discusses the importance & role of “touch” in schools on BBC One Breakfast, a national morning news programme. [19th February 2017]