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Spotlight on Rebecca Lepping, Ph.D.

Dec 01, 2022

The definition for the word trailblazer is “an innovator, a pioneer.” And for Rebecca Lepping, Ph.D., who was the 2019 Frontiers Trailblazer Arts & Medicine awardee, the term is fitting. Her research for the award centered around her life-long love of music and her curiosity about the brain which blossomed after taking an undergraduate general education psychology class. It also helped spark her thinking on how to objectively study both music and emotions.

A research assistant professor in Neurology and imaging scientist at Hoglund Biomedical Imaging Center, Lepping also has a Master of Arts degree in psychology of music from the University of Sheffield (England) and a Master of Arts degree in piano performance from the University of Missouri – Kansas City Conservatory of Music. Her doctoral dissertation work in cognitive psychology at the University of Kansas used music as an affective probe to study the neural basis of emotion processing in depression and other psychiatric disorders. She directs the Power of Music Lab, where there is an intersection of music and health.

For her Frontiers Trailblazer award, Lepping and her team studied how listening to music impacted people dealing with fibromyalgia pain, and how it might help them avoid taking pain medication. This was also an opportunity for her to collaborate with Andrea Chadwick, director of the Fibromyalgia and Centralized Pain Exploration Lab, Kathleen Gustafson, director of the neurophysiology core, Laura Martin, director of the human imaging core, and  Miranda McMillan, clinical research coordinator to bring each discipline into the project and see the impact they can make by working together. 

“This was a full team effort, and we were able to utilize the infrastructure that is available at the University of Kansas Medical Center to do a more economical study,” Lepping said.

And while COVID impacted the number of patients who were able to participate in the study, she found that music helped lessen the pain for some suffering from fibromyalgia. She hopes to continue down the path of how music impacts health and generate additional funding opportunities, while also acknowledging this could be good for medicine as researchers look at more holistic approaches to a patient’s well-being.

“I encourage investigators to apply for Trailblazer awards. They recognize ideas outside of the standard box,” she said. “The reviewers of the applications are open-minded beyond is this just a good idea. They could see that while it might be a riskier idea because we don’t know much going in, it has potential. It is definitely worth it to apply and potentially get some seed money. Think of it as the first step.”

Her paper on the impact of music on participants with fibromyalgia was published in Frontiers of Pain Research September 2022.

In addition to this work, Lepping participates in a broad scope of collaborative research including imaging studies of Alzheimer’s disease, autism, kidney disease, pulmonary disease, obesity, traumatic brain injury, and memory in aging musicians. 

No Photo Available

Kelly Hale

Communications Coordinator

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