clear
Monday June 18th, 2018 9:16AM

Striking a chord, NIH taps the brain to find how music heals

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

WASHINGTON (AP) — Like a friendly Pied Piper, the violinist keeps up a toe-tapping beat as dancers weave through busy hospital hallways and into the chemotherapy unit, patients looking up in surprised delight. Upstairs, a cellist plays an Irish folk tune for a patient in intensive care.

Music increasingly is becoming a part of patient care — although it's still pretty unusual to see roving performers captivating entire wards, like at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital one fall morning.

"It takes them away for just a few minutes to some other place where they don't have to think about what's going on," said cellist Martha Vance after playing for a patient isolated to avoid spreading infection.

The challenge: Harnessing music to do more than comfort the sick. Now, moving beyond programs like Georgetown's, the National Institutes of Health is bringing together musicians, music therapists and neuroscientists to tap into the brain's circuitry and figure out how.

"The brain is able to compensate for other deficits sometimes by using music to communicate," said NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins, a geneticist who also plays a mean guitar.

To turn that ability into a successful therapy, "it would be a really good thing to know which parts of the brain are still intact to be called into action. To know the circuits well enough to know the backup plan," Collins added.

Scientists aren't starting from scratch. Learning to play an instrument, for example, sharpens how the brain processes sound and can improve children's reading and other school skills. Stroke survivors who can't speak sometimes can sing, and music therapy can help them retrain brain pathways to communicate. Similarly, Parkinson's patients sometimes walk better to the right beat.

But what's missing is rigorous science to better understand how either listening to or creating music might improve health in a range of other ways — research into how the brain processes music that NIH is beginning to fund.

"The water is wide, I cannot cross over," well-known soprano Renee Fleming belted out, not from a concert stage but from inside an MRI machine at the NIH campus.

The opera star — who partnered with Collins to start the Sound Health initiative — spent two hours in the scanner to help researchers tease out what brain activity is key for singing. How? First Fleming spoke the lyrics. Then she sang them. Finally, she imagined singing them.

"We're trying to understand the brain not just so we can address mental disorders or diseases or injuries, but also so we can understand what happens when a brain's working right and what happens when it's performing at a really high level," said NIH researcher David Jangraw, who shared the MRI data with The Associated Press.

To Jangraw's surprise, several brain regions were more active when Fleming imagined singing than when she actually sang, including the brain's emotion center and areas involved with motion and vision. One theory: it took more mental effort to keep track of where she was in the song, and to maintain its emotion, without auditory feedback.

Fleming put it more simply: "I'm skilled at singing so I didn't have to think about it quite so much," she told a spring workshop at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, where she is an artistic adviser.

Indeed, Jangraw notes a saying in neuroscience: Neurons that fire together, wire together. Brain cells communicate by firing messages to each other through junctions called synapses. Cells that regularly connect — for example, when a musician practices — strengthen bonds into circuitry that forms an efficient network for, in Fleming's case, singing.

But that's a healthy brain. In North Carolina, a neuroscientist and a dance professor are starting an improvisational dance class for Alzheimer's to tell if music and movement enhance a diseased brain's neural networks.

Well before memory loss becomes severe, Alzheimer's patients can experience apathy, depression and gait and balance problems as the brain's synaptic connections begin to falter. The NIH-funded study at Wake Forest University will randomly assign such patients to the improvisation class — to dance playfully without having to remember choreography — or to other interventions.

The test: If quality-of-life symptoms improve, will MRI scans show correlating strengthening of neural networks that govern gait or social engagement?

With senior centers increasingly touting arts programs, "having a deeper understanding of how these things are affecting our biology can help us understand how to leverage resources already in our community," noted Wake Forest lead researcher Christina Hugenschmidt.

Proof may be tough. An international music therapy study failed to significantly help children with autism, the Journal of the American Medical Association recently reported, contradicting earlier promising findings. But experts cited challenges with the study and called for additional research.

Unlike music therapy, which works one-on-one toward individual outcomes, the arts and humanities program at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center lets musicians-in-residence play throughout the hospital. Palliative care nurses often seek Vance, the cellist, for patients anxious or in pain. She may watch monitors, matching a tune's tempo to heart rate and then gradually slowing. Sometimes she plays for the dying, choosing a gently arrhythmic background and never a song that might be familiar.

Julia Langley, who directs Georgetown's program, wants research into the type and dose of music for different health situations: "If we can study the arts in the same way that science studies medication and other therapeutics, I think we will be doing so much good."

___

This Associated Press series was produced in partnership with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

  • Associated Categories: U.S. News, Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, Top U.S. News short headlines, Top General short headlines, AP Online Headlines - Washington, AP Health, AP Entertainment, AP Online Recordings News
© Copyright 2018 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Released prison chef, given 2nd chance, opens new restaurant
Former New Jersey prison chef, released through Obama executive order, makes most out of 2nd chance, opens new restaurant; chicken wings, wraps, salads, pork ribs and beef stew on the menu
10:04PM ( 8 minutes ago )
Oklahoma superintendent out amid team sex assault case
Oklahoma school superintendent resigns after alleged failure to promptly report sex assault of football player
9:48PM ( 24 minutes ago )
Official: Train brake automatically activated in fatal wreck
U.S. investigators say preliminary information indicates that the emergency brake on the Amtrak train that derailed in Washington state went off automatically
8:15PM ( 1 hour ago )
U.S. News
12 killed as bus carrying foreign tourists crashes in Mexico
A bus carrying cruise ship passengers on an excursion to Mayan ruins in southeastern Mexico has flipped over on a narrow highway, killing 11 travelers and their guide and injuring about 20 others
9:42PM ( 30 minutes ago )
Jeter hears complaints of Marlins fans at town hall
Derek Jeter fields questions from Miami Marlins season-ticket holders at town hall
9:28PM ( 44 minutes ago )
Auriemma wins 1000th game as UConn beats Oklahoma 88-64
Geno Auriemma won his 1000th game as top-ranked UConn beat Oklahoma 88-64 in the Hall of Fame women's Holiday Showcase
9:08PM ( 1 hour ago )
Associated Press (AP)
The Latest: Amtrak speed-control technology was months away
The rush to launch train service on a new, faster Amtrak route near Seattle came at a deadly cost: none of the speed-control technology that could've prevented a derailment was active
7:42PM ( 2 hours ago )
Democrat recount win could alter power in Virginia's House
A single vote may spell the end of Republican control in Virginia's House of Delegates. A Democratic challenger appears to have won a recount on Tuesday by one vote, putting the partisan balance in the House at a tie
7:33PM ( 2 hours ago )
US short of options to punish NKorea for serious cyberattack
The Trump administration is vowing that North Korea will be held accountable for a May cyberattack that affected 150 countries, but it isn't saying how
7:12PM ( 3 hours ago )
AP National News
Official: Inquiry considers if train engineer was distracted
Federal investigators say they don't yet know why an Amtrak train was traveling 50 mph over the speed limit when it derailed Monday south of Seattle
2:50PM ( 7 hours ago )
The Latest: Second rail advocate among victims of derailment
A relative says a rail advocate is one of the three people killed in the deadly Amtrak derailment in Washington state
2:31PM ( 7 hours ago )
Striking a chord, NIH taps the brain to find how music heals
NIH bringing together musicians, music therapists and neuroscientists to tune into brain in search for music's healing power
2:07PM ( 8 hours ago )
AP Online National News
Woman pleads guilty to boyfriend's death in YouTube stunt
A Minnesota woman has pleaded guilty to fatally shooting her boyfriend in a videotaped stunt they planned to post on YouTube
2:57PM ( 7 hours ago )
The Latest: Feds probing if engineer was distracted in crash
A U.S. official says investigators are examining whether an Amtrak engineer was distracted when a speeding train derailed, killing three people and sending several rail cars flying off an overpass
1:55PM ( 8 hours ago )
The Latest: Transit agency: Employee killed in derailment
A local transit agency says one of its employees was a victim in the deadly Amtrak derailment in Washington state
12:35PM ( 9 hours ago )
Top U.S. News short headlines
The Latest: Ryan praises GOP tax bill ahead of final vote
House Speaker Paul Ryan is hailing the Republican tax package, saying "today, we give the people of this country their money back."
1:58PM ( 8 hours ago )
The Latest: Tax bill clears procedural hurdle
A sweeping tax package speeding its way through Congress has cleared a key procedural vote in the House.
12:08PM ( 10 hours ago )
Rome's Christmas tree 'Mangy' needled for heavy shedding
Rome's official Christmas tree is losing so many needles so fast, it has become a jolly joke for Romans.
11:09AM ( 11 hours ago )
Top General short headlines
A faulty title and other glitches slow down GOP tax bill
A faulty title and other glitches slow down GOP tax bill
6:32PM ( 3 hours ago )
Ryan: Tax overhaul came naturally to Republicans
House Speaker Paul Ryan defied skeptics who thought his party would never get the sweeping tax overhaul bill to President Donald Trump's desk by Christmas
6:26PM ( 3 hours ago )
Senate Russia probe looking into 2016 candidate Jill Stein
The Senate intelligence committee has asked for documents from Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein as part of its probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election
5:32PM ( 4 hours ago )
AP Online Headlines - Washington
McConnell unveils wish list to attach to spending bill
The Senate's top Republican has announced a lengthy wish list that he hopes to attach to a must-do spending bill this week, but there's no agreement with the chamber's Democrats and little time to waste
5:32PM ( 1 day ago )
White roommate in smeared body fluids case pleads not guilty
White former Connecticut university student accused of smearing body fluids on black roommate's belongings pleads not guilty to criminal mischief and breach of peace
2:46PM ( 1 day ago )
A CDC ban on 'fetus' and 'transgender?' Experts alarmed
Health leaders say they are alarmed about reports that officials at the nation's top public health agency are being told not to use certain words in official budget documents, including "fetus," and "transgender."
8:33AM ( 2 days ago )
AP Health
Sword-swallower who once ran museum called Freakatorium dies
Johnny Fox, a sword-swallowing magician who presented his quirky art form to enthusiastic audiences around the world, has died
3:57PM ( 6 hours ago )
Pam Grier, Cybill Shepherd to appear at Las Cruces Film Fest
Pam Grier, the star of gritty 1970s Blaxploitation movies like "Foxy Brown" and "Coffy," is scheduled to be a guest at the 2018 Las Cruces International Film Festival
12:39PM ( 9 hours ago )
Margot Robbie plans to return to ice rink for Christmas
Margot Robbie learned to ice skate for "I, Tonya" and loved it, but she hasn't donned skates since
11:55AM ( 10 hours ago )
AP Entertainment
Popular S. Korean boy band member dies in possible suicide
Police say the lead singer of popular South Korean boy band SHINee has died in a possible suicide
9:37AM ( 1 day ago )
Jazz and pop singer Keely Smith dies of heart failure at 89
Keely Smith, a pop and jazz singer known for her solo recordings of jazz standards as well as her musical partnership with Louis Prima, died Saturday of apparent heart failure in Palm Springs at the age of 89
5:56PM ( 2 days ago )
Sam Smith, Miley Cyrus to perform Elton John tribute show
Sam Smith, Miley Cyrus and Coldplay's Chris Martin are set to honor Elton John at a tribute concert next month
1:29PM ( 4 days ago )
AP Online Recordings News
Released prison chef, given 2nd chance, opens new restaurant
Former New Jersey prison chef, released through Obama executive order, makes most out of 2nd chance, opens new restaurant; chicken wings, wraps, salads, pork ribs and beef stew on the menu
10:04PM ( 10 minutes ago )
Oklahoma superintendent out amid team sex assault case
Oklahoma school superintendent resigns after alleged failure to promptly report sex assault of football player
9:48PM ( 26 minutes ago )
Official: Train brake automatically activated in fatal wreck
U.S. investigators say preliminary information indicates that the emergency brake on the Amtrak train that derailed in Washington state went off automatically
8:15PM ( 1 hour ago )
Mom of Charlottesville victim to speak at street dedication
Charlottesville is set to honor a young woman killed when a car plowed into a crowd protesting a white nationalist rally by dedicating part of the street where the attack occurred to her
7:22PM ( 2 hours ago )
The Latest: Train's emergency brake automatically activated
U.S. investigators say preliminary information indicates that the emergency brake on the Amtrak train that derailed in Washington state went off automatically
6:49PM ( 3 hours ago )