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DOI: 10.1186/s12906-023-03909-w; PMCID: PMC10041701


BACKGROUND: Music therapy is a standard palliative care service in many pediatric and adult hospitals; however, most research has focused on the use of music to improve psychosocial dimensions of health, without considering biological dimensions. This study builds on prior work examining psychosocial mechanisms of action underlying an Active Music Engagement (AME) intervention, designed to help manage emotional distress and improve positive health outcomes in young children with cancer and parents (caregivers), by examining its effects on biomarkers of stress and immune function.

METHODS: This two-group randomized controlled trial (R01NR019190) is designed to examine biological mechanisms of effect and dose-response relationships of AME on child/parent stress during the consolidation phase of Acute B- or T-cell Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) and T-cell Lymphoblastic Lymphoma (TLyLy) treatment. Child/parent dyads (n = 228) are stratified (by age, site, risk level) and randomized in blocks of four to the AME or attention control condition. Each group receives one session (30-minutes AME; 20-minutes control) during weekly clinic visits (4 weeks standard risk B-cell ALL; 8 weeks high risk B-cell ALL/T-cell ALL/TLyLy). Parents complete questionnaires at baseline and post-intervention. Child/parent salivary cortisol samples are taken pre- and post-session (sessions 1-4). Child blood samples are reserved from routine draws before sessions 1 and 4 (all participants) and session 8 (high risk participants). We will use linear mixed models to estimate AME's effect on child/parent cortisol. Examining child/parent cortisol as mediators of AME effects on child and parent outcomes will be performed in an ANCOVA setting, fitting the appropriate mediation models using MPlus and then testing indirect effects using the percentile bootstrap approach. Graphical plots and non-linear repeated measures models will be used to examine dose-response relationship of AME on child/parent cortisol.

DISCUSSION: During pediatric cancer treatment there are special challenges that must be considered when measuring cortisol and immune function. In this manuscript we discuss how we addressed three specific challenges through our trial design. Findings from this trial will increase mechanistic understanding of the effects of active music interventions on multiple biomarkers and understanding of dose-response effects, with direct implications for clinical practice.


Journal Title

BMC Complement Med Ther





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MeSH Keywords

Adult; Humans; Child; Child, Preschool; Music; Hydrocortisone; Parents; Lymphoma; Precursor Cell Lymphoblastic Leukemia-Lymphoma; Biomarkers; Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic


Acute lymphoblastic leukemia; Biomarker; Immune function; Music therapy; Stress; Study protocol


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