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13 September 2023

King's scientist wins prestigious Falling Walls Science Breakthrough of the Year award

Professor Elaine Chew has received the award for her groundbreaking work on music’s role in cardiovascular health

Professor Elaine Chew

Professor Elaine Chew has been awarded the distinguished Falling Walls Science Breakthrough of the Year 2023 award in the Art & Science category. Falling Walls is an international non-profit foundation established to promote innovative networks of scientists, policy makers and members of industry to tackle societal challenges, following the fall of the Berlin Wall.

A Professor of Engineering in the Department of Engineering and School of Biomedical Engineering & Imaging Sciences, Elaine Chew was nominated for her project ‘Understanding Music’s Effect on the Heart’. Professor Chew and collaborators Vanessa Pope, Mateusz Soliñski, Courtney Reed from King’s and Professor Pier Lambiase from UCL & Barts Heart Centre, will be travelling to Berlin in November to discuss their work at the Falling Walls Science Summit.

Follow a review of over 1,000 entries, the judging panel highlighted their project’s global approach, the longevity of the research, and how live performances helped communicate the research to a diverse and engaged audience.

Music and the heart have been romantically linked through the ages, but in recent years, physicians have been interested in music as a treatment for heart patients, inducing changes in breathing and the heart to help manage stress and blood pressure. Despite this recent interest, understanding music’s effects on the heart is challenging due to the contextual, personal, and specific nature of how people experience music. Music expressivity, the act of having a personal response to music, is by definition ephemeral, and therefore lacks a systematic vocabulary for its description.

Research on cardiac response to music for development of non-invasive, non-pharmacological therapies and diagnostics is still an emerging area..."

Professor Elaine Chew PhD, FTCL, LTCL, BAS, Professor of Engineering

Professor Elaine Chew commented on her win: "I am thrilled that the project has received this recognition. It is the work of a team that has spanned both sides of the Channel. Research on cardiac response to music for development of non-invasive, non-pharmacological therapies and diagnostics is still an emerging area, and I hope that being selected as Falling Walls Science Breakthrough of the Year will help shed light on the vital work being done."

Following her own history of treatment for heart rhythm disorders, Professor Chew and her team have been conducting a long-term study funded by the European Research Council (ERC) on the why and how of music expressivity, and how that can be used to treat heart patients. Within theirERC project COSMOS, they created models and software tools to characterise and visualise performed and composed music structures. Linking this to physiological signals from wearable sensors in another ERC project HeartFM, they can see visually, in real-time, the musicians' and listeners' cardiac and respiratory response to music.

Cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death worldwide, including in the EU. The aim for the research is to help design more effective therapies for heart patients. Tailored music has been shown to lower blood pressure, which can reduce all-cause mortality or raise blood pressure for those experiencing symptoms of hypotension (low blood pressure) such as fainting or dizziness. In the longer term, it’s hoped that the work done here will help study differences between hearts with and without heart rhythm disorders and enshrine music as a common and tailored method of treatment and diagnosis for cardiovascular issues.

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