Lab Demo, Research Briefing
Streisand Sees Science Up Close, in Person
Not long after delivering the Rall lecture, Barbra Streisand got to sample a bit of NIH research in progress. NIAID principal investigator Dr. Irini Sereti and her team in the HIV pathogenesis unit hosted the superstar in their Clinical Center laboratory.
Sereti’s group is conducting an intramural trial called ECSTATIN, which has enrolled about 50 people with HIV who are at risk for developing heart disease. ECSTATIN is evaluating whether baby aspirin (used to decrease clotting) or atorvastatin (used to lower cholesterol and limit inflammation) can influence the chronic inflammation related to HIV and cardiovascular disease.
The study also demonstrates NIH’s commitment to advance sex and gender equity in science: About 20 percent of HIV-positive people in the U.S. are women, Sereti explained. “We have 30 percent enrolled women in ECSTATIN.”
For Streisand’s visit, Sereti led her through the study’s stored samples, showing the freezer and how they use liquid nitrogen to preserve participants’ cells, which are alive, but frozen.
“[Visit planners indicated that Streisand] had never been in a laboratory before,” said Sereti, “and that she wanted to get the impressions and experience of being in a lab. We showed her the biosafety hood and the flow cytometer, and we explained how we thaw the cells and look for the production of inflammatory cytokines.”
Streisand spent about 10 to 15 minutes with the research team, posing for photos with them afterward.
“She was engaging and funny, very smart, personable—just fabulous,” Sereti recalled. “She was asking a lot of good questions. We were so inspired by her lecture and truly honored to host her.”
After the lab tour, Streisand met with two ECSTATIN participants.
This is not Sereti’s first brush with celebrity in her scientific career. She was a medical resident at Northwestern in 1996 when Princess Diana visited in an effort to raise funds for breast cancer research and toured the hospital where she met with patients in the HIV ward.
“I didn’t actually get to meet her, but I was there when she was,” said Sereti, who enthusiastically added that her group would welcome other superstars who want to support research. “We are open to more, definitely. Anyone interested in HIV—Elton John, Prince Harry!”
By encountering Streisand up close and personal, Sereti also became somewhat of a superstar in her own household, particularly with her 12-year-old daughter.
“What’s Up, Doc? was one of our first family movie nights and she really enjoyed it,” said Sereti. “Then when we watched Yentl she liked that one too. She became a fan after that, so there was lots of excitement when I came home and told her I had met Barbra Streisand…My favorite movie is still The Way We Were though.”