Streisand Delivers Rall Cultural Lecture

Barbra Streisand delivers the Rall Cultural Lecture at NIH.
Barbra Streisand delivers the Rall Cultural Lecture at NIH.

Barbra Streisand isn’t a doctor, although she has played one on screen. She’s graced stages big and small across the globe, from Hollywood and Broadway to London and Sydney. At NIH on May 15, the worldrenowned singer-actor-director used her voice in a less-familiar venue to amplify a topic that’s been close to her heart throughout her six-decade career: gender equity, especially in science and health.

“The closest thing I have to a medical credential is my role in What’s Up, Doc?,” Streisand joked as she began her remarks at the J. Edward Rall Cultural Lecture.

Focusing on women’s health and underrepresentation of women in medical research, the event—“Taking Women’s Health to Heart: An Afternoon with Barbra Streisand”—later featured a conversation with NIH director Dr. Francis Collins, who introduced her.

“We are blessed indeed to have with us such a remarkable leader in the arts, but also in the promotion of human medicine and the need to focus on women’s health,” Collins said.

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Attractions of Commercial Genome Testing

If you haven’t been to the drug store lately, it may come as a surprise to find, there on the shelves as you search for toothpaste, deodorant and a greeting card, little boxes inviting you to spit in a tube and find out about your genetic past.

A representative of one of those companies— 23andMe—visited NIH recently to explain what these kits are all about.

Dr. Joanna Mountain is senior director of research at 23andMe, a Silicon Valley company now in its 10th year, and a self-described latecomer to the scientific life. She was already in her mid-20s and finished with 2 years of Peace Corps service in Kenya when lab life beckoned. She gave up a faculty position at Stanford to join a company that is fundamentally about research.

About 5 million people, and more every month, have—out of curiosity about whether they are at risk of Alzheimer’s disease, prone to motion sickness or perhaps really descended from Irish royalty—purchased the 23andMe kit.

Buyers provide a saliva sample and mail it to the company. Within 2-4 weeks, they get details on their risk of dozens of conditions, ancestry information and hints about dozens of traits, Mountain said.

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