An operating theater isn’t somewhere you’d normally expect to see someone belt out a saxophone solo, and even if you did, you wouldn’t peg the player to be the patient lying on the table with their brain exposed. But that’s exactly what musician Dan Fabbio did, as surgeons worked to remove a tumor from his brain without disrupting his professional skills.
The story begins in 2015, when Fabbio, a musician and music teacher, suddenly began to experience hallucinations, dizziness and nausea. He was taken to hospital where doctors performed a CAT scan and found a large tumor in his brain – in an unfortunate coincidence, it happened to be right in a region that’s been linked to musical processing and ability.
To help in instances such as this, researchers at the University of Rochester have developed a Translational Brain Mapping program. Before patients go in for surgery, they’re put through a series of tests while their brains are being scanned, to highlight which areas are related to which functions, such as motor control and language processing.
“Removing a tumor from the brain can have significant consequences depending upon its location,” says Web Pilcher, a neurosurgeon at Rochester and co-author of the new study. “Both the tumor itself and the operation to remove it can damage tissue and disrupt communication between different parts of the brain. It is, therefore, critical to understand as much as you can about each individual patient before you bring them into the operating room so we can perform the procedure without causing damage to parts of the brain that are important to that person’s life and function.”
But compared to language and motor skills, which are relatively straightforward to test, musical function is a different beast altogether. So in this case the scientists consulted Music Theory professor Elizabeth Marvin to…