News Briefs: Cancer Patients & Shingles; Musicians’ Ability to Synchronize

Cancer Patients Face Higher Risk of Shingles; New Vaccines May Help

People newly diagnosed with cancer, particularly blood cancers, and those treated with chemotherapy have a greater risk of developing shingles, according to an Australian study published in the Journal of ­Infectious Diseases. Shingles, or herpes zoster, is caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. Shingles develops when the virus, which remains dormant in the body, reactivates later in life. Nearly one in three people in the U.S. will develop shingles in their lifetime, and there are an estimated 1 million cases in the country each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the study, researchers found that a cancer diagnosis of any kind was associated with about a 40 percent increase in risk for developing shingles compared to the risk in someone without cancer. Patients with a blood-related, or hematological, cancer diagnosis had a more than threefold higher risk of developing shingles than people without cancer. Individuals with a diagnosis of cancer related to a solid tumor, such as cancer located in the lung, breast, prostate or other organ, had a 30 percent higher shingles risk compared to someone with no cancer.

For patients with solid tumors, the higher risk of developing shingles appeared to be largely associated with receiving chemotherapy after their diagnosis, rather than with the cancer itself. In examining the higher risk of shingles in cancer patients, few previous studies have separated the risk for shingles associated with a patient’s cancer from the risk associated with chemotherapy. A new shingles vaccine approved for use in the U.S. in 2017 does not use a live form of the virus and is likely to be safe in people with compromised immune systems, such as those on chemotherapy. The vaccine is not yet recommended for these individuals in the U.S., as public health officials await more data on the vaccine’s use in such patients. Another new shingles vaccine that uses an inactivated form of the virus is also in development. These advances suggest that vaccination holds great promise as a strategy to prevent shingles and its complications in cancer patients, according to the study authors.

Emotions Key to Musicians’ Ability to Synchronize

A team of researchers from McMaster University in Canada has discovered a new technique to examine how musicians intuitively coordinate with one another during a performance, silently predicting how each will express the music. The findings, published in the journal Scientific Reports, provide new insights into how musicians synchronize their movements so they are playing exactly in time, as one single unit. “Successfully performing music with a group is a highly complex endeavor,” explains Laurel Trainor, the senior author of the study and director of the LIVELab at McMaster University. “How do musicians coordinate with each other to perform expressive music that has changes in tempo and dynamics? Accomplishing this relies on predicting what your fellow musicians will do next so that you can plan the motor movements so as to express the same emotions in a coordinated way. If you wait to hear what your fellow musicians will do, it is too late,” she says.

For this study, researchers turned to the Gryphon Trio, an acclaimed chamber music ensemble. Each performer was fitted with motion capture markers to track their movements while the musicians played happy or sad musical excerpts, once with musical expression, once without. Using mathematical techniques, investigators measured how much the movements of each musician were predicting the movements of the others. Whether they were portraying joy or sadness, the musicians predicted each other’s movements to a greater extent when they played expressively, compared to when they played with no emotion. “Our work shows we can measure communication of emotion between musicians by analyzing their movements in detail, and that achieving a common emotional expression as a group requires a lot of communication,” says Andrew Chang, the lead author on the study. Researchers suggest this novel technique can be applied to other situations, such as communication between non-verbal patients and their family and caregivers. They are also testing the technique in a study of romantic attraction. “The early results indicate that communication measured in body sway can predict which couples will want to see each other again,” says Chang.

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