Recent Barnard graduate Sarah Jinich ’19 helped study patients who suffer from frequent migraines as part of her work on a research team that created a new mobile app, RELAXaHEAD. The team's study was published on June 4 in the journal Nature Digital Medicine. The app was designed by researchers at the New York University School of Medicine as an accessible and affordable form of treatment, in addition to standard therapies. Patients are guided through progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) exercises that alternately relax and tense different muscle groups to reduce stress.

Jinich, who graduated in May with a degree in neuroscience and behavior, began working on the project during the summer of 2017, enrolling patients in the study and collecting and analyzing the data they submitted. She also helped write, edit, and submit the paper, and she presented the team’s research at the American Headache Society’s annual conference in San Francisco.

“It was thoroughly rewarding to be able to see the project from start to finish and gain a comprehensive understanding of the research process,” Jinich said. “I was able to take the research skills I had acquired in my Barnard science classes and labs and apply them to my work in the greater New York City area. But the most rewarding parts of the research experience was the time spent with patients, as well as being able to work with and learn from my mentor, [principal study investigator] Dr. Mia Minen ’03, who gave me so many opportunities to work in a variety of medical settings and take initiative within the study.”

“It was such a pleasure to work with Sarah as she thought about next steps for herself after graduation,” said A-J Aronstein, associate dean for Beyond Barnard. “In all of our advising conversations, she demonstrated such an openness to the many different avenues for her scientific research, and a flexibility to explore how her work could help other people. The ability to break down the significance of even really complex science is something distinctive about Barnard students generally, but I was especially impressed with the flexibility of Sarah's thinking and her ability to articulate her interests for lots of different kinds of audiences.”

Migraine patients at NYU Langone Health were asked to use the app and its PMR exercises every day for 90 days, recording the frequency and severity of any headaches that occurred. Although patient compliance gradually decreased over the 90-day period, researchers had anticipated this decline and expressed optimism about the app’s efficacy in relieving migraine pain. The next phase of the study will examine methods to increase compliance.

The study may be viewed in Nature Digital Medicine, and the accompanying press release can be found on the NYU Langone Health website.