Top Story, Hospitals, Patient Engagement

Custom music therapy for cancer patients designed by Pandora’s chief musicologist

Nolan Gasser, architect of Pandora’s Music Genome Project, is now working to create music specifically designed to help heal cancer patients.

Nolan Gasser has a pretty cool job.

He has made a career out of tailoring people’s taste in music to create individualized streams using Pandora’s Music Genome Project, and now he is using that experience to help treat the symptoms of cancer patients with a specific type of music therapy.

The Music Genome Project breaks apart musical characteristics (genes) that people demonstrate they enjoy and an algorithm provides songs that are similar in structure or sound.

Gasser is working with members of the Integrative Medicine Department at New York City’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center using the same concept combined with what music therapy researchers have found to be affective. Sloan Kettering is a good fit for Gasser with its active Music Therapy department.

The project was featured last week in an ESPN Films special called “Breaking Music Down to Its Genes.” In the special, Gasser (also a pianist and composer) guides viewers through “The Wellness Suite,” his composition designed to contain the right traits to soothe and treat cancer patients. Not what you might expect for ESPN, but it’s part of a digital shorts series that covers a variety of subjects unrelated to sports. Venture Beat wrote about the Music Genome Project as well.

“The Wellness Suite” uses music techniques to designed relieve fatigue, pain, anxiety, and nausea.

“The slow, heartbeat-paced tempo, consonant harmony, lyrical and sustained melody, occasional bursts of rhythmic energy, the use of strings, and so forth,” Gasser said, have been shown in the research literature to create positive therapeutic effects.

Gasser, with his Sloan Kettering collaboration, would like to explore how these techniques could be used for a wider range of ailments in the future and a more complex approach to cancer therapy, according to Venture Beat.

“It would be nice to explore grander prospects like increasing general metabolism in the fight against cancer,” Gasser said. “The prospect that a sustained musical therapy could help in the act of healing or even reduce the spread of cancer is pretty ambitious, but it certainly can’t hurt.”

There’s no shortage of optimism and positivity coming from Gasser when it comes to this venture.

“We are musical beings; music is part of our very identity,” he said. “We all have the capacity for music to have a positive effect on our wellbeing.”

Listen to “The Wellness Suite” below and watch “Breaking Music Down to Its Genes” here.