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Music therapy to support family experiences of Huntington’s Disease

   Vice Chancellor's PhD Studentships

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  Dr Jonathan Pool, Prof Wendy Magee, Prof H Odell-Miller  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

Our university has recently won the Queen's Anniversary Prize for research and Innovation specifically for our Cambridge Institute for Music Therapy Research work in music therapy research.

Huntington’s Disease (HD) is a neurological illness caused by a genetic abnormality. It is hereditary and each child born to a parent with Huntington’s Disease has a 50% chance of also inheriting the gene. More than 5700 people in the UK, aged 21 years and above, have HD (Evans et al., 2013). Progression of the disease includes abnormal movements, psychiatric disturbances, and cognitive decline, and often results in death within 20 years after the first signs are noticed. There is no cure. Therefore, the focus is on managing symptoms and quality of life. Music therapy to enhance quality of life of these patients has been investigated (van Bruggen-Rufi & Roos, 2015). However, few studies have addressed the need to enhance quality of life of family caregivers (Ready et al., 2008). Multiple issues can impact on family members, including loss, caring for someone with a progressive disease, and the potential for the gene to be expressed in others in the family. These present a significant need to provide support for the caregivers and patients.

The successful applicant will:

  • explore the needs of family caregivers of people with Huntington’s Disease, focussing on communication and its impact on social connection/isolation.
  • develop a music therapy intervention designed to address these needs, with particular attention on supporting the communication function of the person with HD
  • test the efficacy of the intervention, gathering data to examine its efficacy including aspects such as its positive effect on managing the family caregivers’ level of distress and frustration.
  • evaluate the feasibility of a larger study

Dr Pool specialises in music therapy research within the neurological populations and has also been working clinically with these populations for nearly 13 years. As a researcher and supervisor for doctoral candidates he is familiar with qualitative and quantitative paradigms and research methods, has used mixed methods in his own research and managed clinical trials. He holds the Research Chair for the Independent Neurological Providers Alliance (INPA). Professor Magee is based at Temple University in Philadelphia. She has published on music therapy to support Huntingdon’s Disease patients and has worked for many years as a music therapist at a leading institution caring for people with this condition. The teams within the INPA membership have extensive experience participating in research, assessment of people with HD and gathering data.

The methodological approaches appropriate to this study include qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods to gather data around intervention effectiveness and participant experience. Outcome measures may include standardised clinical assessment, questionnaires and interviews focusing on communication, resilience, quality of life, quality of family relationship. Quality outcomes include the publication of research manuscripts in peer-reviewed journals, recommendations for clinical practice published and disseminated to providers and people affected by HD, provision of data for estimating sample size of a larger study, and identification of future research ideas.

If you would like to discuss this research project prior to application please contact Dr Jonathan Pool (jonathan.pool(@)aru.ac.uk)

Candidate requirements

Applications are invited from UK fee status only. Applicants should have (or expect to achieve) a minimum upper second-class undergraduate degree (or equivalent) in a cognate discipline. A Masters’ degree in a relevant subject is desirable.

Applicants must be prepared to study on a full-time basis, attending at our Cambridge campus. The Vice Chancellor’s PhD scholarship awards are open to Home fee status applicants only.

Application Procedures

Applications for a Vice Chancellor’s PhD Scholarship are made through the application portal on our website: https://aru.ac.uk/research/postgraduate-research/phd-studentships

We will review all applications after the submission deadline of 27th February. We will contact shortlisted applicants in the week commencing 14th March. Interviews will be held between 21st March – 1st April. The interview date for this project can be found on our website.

If you have any queries relating to the application process or the terms and conditions of the scholarships, please email vcphdscholarships(@)aru.ac.uk

Documentation required

You will need the following documents available electronically to upload them to the application portal (we can accept files in pdf, jpeg or Word format):

  1. Certificates and transcripts from your Bachelor and Masters degrees, (if applicable)
  2. Your personal statement explaining your suitability for the project
  3. Passport and visa (if applicable)
  4. Curriculum Vitae

Funding Notes

This successful applicant for this project will receive a Vice Chancellor’s scholarship award which covers Home tuition fees and provides a UKRI equivalent minimum annual stipend for three years. The award is subject to the successful candidate meeting the scholarship Terms and conditions which can be found on our website: https://aru.ac.uk/research/postgraduate-research/phd-studentships


Magee, W. (1995). Case studies in Huntington's Disease: Music therapy assessment and treatment in the early to advanced stages. British Journal of Music Therapy, 9(2), 13-19.
van Bruggen-Rufi, M., Vink, A., Achterberg, W., & Roos, R. (2016). Music therapy in Huntington’s disease: a protocol for a multi-center randomized controlled trial. BMC psychology, 4(1), 1-9.
van Bruggen-Rufi, M., & Roos, R. (2015). The effect of music therapy for patients with Huntington’s disease: A systematic literature review. Journal of Literature and Art Studies, 5(1), 30-40.
O’Kelly, J., & Bodak, R. (2016). Development of the music therapy assessment tool for advanced Huntington’s disease: A pilot validation study. Journal of Music Therapy, 53(3), 232-256.
van Bruggen-Rufi, M. C., Vink, A. C., Wolterbeek, R., Achterberg, W. P., & Roos, R. A. (2017). The effect of music therapy in patients with Huntington’s disease: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of Huntington's disease, 6(1), 63-72.
van Bruggen-Rufi, M., Vink, A., Achterberg, W., & Roos, R. (2018). Improving quality of life in patients with Huntington’s disease through music therapy: A qualitative explorative study using focus group discussions. Nordic Journal of Music Therapy, 27(1), 44-66.
Davis, G., & Magee, W. (2001). Clinical improvisation within neurological disease: Exploring the effect of structured clinical improvisation on the expressive and interactive responses of a patient with Huntington's Disease. British Journal of Music Therapy, 15(2), 51-60.
Ready, R. E., Mathews, M., Leserman, A., & Paulsen, J. S. (2008). Patient and caregiver quality of life in Huntington's disease. Movement Disorders, 23(5), 721-726.
Van Beek, S. (2012). Enhancing Quality of Life through Singing: A Music Therapy Study into Huntington’s Disease.
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