Cortisol as an Acute Stress Biomarker in Young Hematopoietic Cell Transplant Patients/Caregivers: Active Music Engagement Protocol

Kristen A. Russ, Steven J. Holochwost, Susan M. Perkins, Kristin Stegenga, Seethal A. Jacob, David Delgado, Amanda K. Henley, Joan E. Haase, Sheri L. Robb

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Objective: Primary aims of the proposed protocol are to determine the feasibility/acceptability of the active music engagement intervention protocol during hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) and clinical feasibility/acceptability of the biological sample collection schedule. Design: The authors propose a single-case, alternating treatment design to compare levels of child and caregiver cortisol in blood and saliva collected on alternating days, when the dyad receives and does not receive AME sessions. Included are the scientific rationale for this design and detailed intervention and sample collection schedules based on transplant type. Setting/Location: Pediatric inpatient HSCT unit. Subjects: Eligible participants are dyads of children 3-8 years old, hospitalized for HSCT, and their caregiver. Children with malignant and nonmalignant conditions will be eligible, regardless of transplant type. Intervention: AME intervention is delivered by a board-certified music therapist who tailors music-based play experiences to encourage active engagement in, and independent use of, music play to manage the inter-related emotional distress experienced by children and their caregivers during HSCT. Dyads will receive two 45-min AME sessions each week during hospitalization. Outcome Measures: Eight collections of blood (child) and saliva (child/caregiver) will be performed for cortisol measurement. The authors will also collect self-report and caregiver proxy measures for dyad emotional distress, quality of life, and family function. At study conclusion, qualitative caregiver interviews will be conducted. Results: Planned analyses will be descriptive and evaluate the feasibility of participant recruitment, cortisol collection, planned evaluations, and AME delivery. Analysis of qualitative interviews will be used to gain an understanding about the ease/burden of biological sample collection and any perceived benefit of AME. Conclusions: Behavioral intervention studies examining biological mechanisms of action in pediatric transplant populations are rare. Findings will provide important information about the feasibility/acceptability of collecting cortisol samples during a high-intensity treatment and advance understanding about the use of active music interventions to mitigate child/caregiver distress during the transplant period.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)424-434
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2020


  • biomarker
  • cortisol
  • hematopoietic stem cell transplant
  • music therapy
  • pediatric
  • stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Complementary and alternative medicine

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