Renée Fleming Foundation and FNIH Support Initiative to Create Music-Based Therapies for Brain Disorders of Aging

Music has long been considered therapeutic for a number of brain disorders in the aging population, such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, and additional scientific data will help support ongoing research into the beneficial effects of music-based interventions (MBIs) for health.

North Bethesda, MD, April 20, 2021—Music has long been considered therapeutic for a number of brain disorders in the aging population, such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, and additional scientific data will help support ongoing research into the beneficial effects of music-based interventions (MBIs) for health. To support this research, the Renée Fleming Foundation is providing funding to the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH), which enables representatives of the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Music and Health Working Group to convene experts from the fields of neuroscience, music therapy and medicine, behavioral intervention development, clinical trial methodology, and patient advocacy to explore enhanced data collection for improved clinical trial design and, ultimately, to create a research toolkit to help develop music-based therapies for brain disorders of aging. 

Led by NIH Working Group members from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) and the National Institute on Aging (NIA), this initiative aims to create and then pilot a toolkit that will help researchers design rigorous clinical trials of music-based therapies. Using the toolkit, which will include common data elements for MBI protocols, researchers can focus on hypothesis-driven music intervention development; intervention refinement and pilot studies that assess feasibility of and adherence to the interventions; and identification of appropriate outcome measures and biomarkers to enhance the rigor and reproducibility of such studies. Data generated from this research will create a foundation for evidence-based efficacy and effectiveness of clinical trials of musical interventions not only in aging populations but across the lifespan. 

“Momentum is building around the concept of arts and health. It’s high time to explore more deeply the relationship of music to science. And, where better than in the field of neuroscience? Renée Fleming deserves accolades for her generous gift that will move us forward in developing science-based treatments and interventions using music therapy for brain health,” said Maria C. Freire, Ph.D., President and Executive Director of the FNIH.

The development of the toolkit and common data elements will be carried out in phases. In the first phase, the partners will host three convenings to discuss and develop the consolidated set of common data elements for MBI protocols, including core outcome measures and biomarkers to be used in MBI protocols, which will inform toolkit development. The first convening, “Laying the Foundation: Defining the Building Blocks of Music-Based Interventions,” took place on March 31, 2021. This meeting convened an expert panel that included NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins, Ms. Fleming, the directors or deputy directors of NCCIH, NIA, NINDS and other members of the trans-NIH Music and Health Working Group. The Renée Fleming Foundation is supporting this effort by providing funding through the FNIH to help cover costs of the meeting series. The next convening, “Assessing and Measuring Target Engagement: Mechanistic and Clinical Outcome Measures for Brain Disorders of Aging,” will take place on June 18, 2021.

According to Ms. Fleming, “I have been gratified by the groundswell of public interest in the application of arts in health. In my discussions with institutional leaders and individual researchers, though, I have encountered a recurring theme. A common stumbling block is the variable quality of research. There is a pressing need for enhanced data collection with guidelines for scientifically rigorous studies. Research that is acceptable to the NIH is crucial for developing evidence-based clinical trials of music and arts therapy interventions. So I am delighted that the Renée Fleming Foundation can contribute to this effort, especially via the FNIH, in support of the work of the NIH, a beacon of medical research for the world.”

The second phase of the project will focus on pilot testing the toolkit and generating preliminary data for future large-scale music-based intervention trials. Follow-up project steps will involve the toolkit being used by investigative teams to develop and rigorously test MBIs for brain disorders of aging, including Alzheimer’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease-related dementia, Parkinson’s disease and stroke.

About the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health The Foundation for the National Institutes of Health creates and manages alliances with public and private institutions in support of the mission of the NIH, the world’s premier medical research agency. The Foundation, also known as the FNIH, works with its partners to accelerate biomedical research and strategies against diseases and health concerns in the United States and across the globe. The FNIH organizes and administers research projects; supports education and training of new researchers; organizes educational events and symposia; and administers a series of funds supporting a wide range of health issues. Established by Congress, the FNIH is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) charitable organization. For additional information about the FNIH, please visit fnih.org.

About the Renée Fleming Foundation The Renée Fleming Foundation is committed to helping to build the future of music and health research, as well as nurturing emerging artists, through targeted projects and support of recognized organizations doing this crucial work. The Foundation is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) charitable organization.

About the National Institutes of Health NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit https://nih.gov.