On 30 July, Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, French virologist and laureate of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Medicine, celebrated her birthday. To mark the occasion, she has agreed to give a mini-interview for the NCC – Gender and Science.
Françoise Barré-Sinoussi has dedicated her career as a scientist and activist to stop the spread of AIDS. Her discovery of the HIV virus led to the development of blood tests that could detect the infection, and eventually to antiretroviral drugs that turned AIDS from a death sentence to a manageable chronic disease. She is also a tireless advocate for people around the world who do not have access to AIDS drugs.
Françoise has been drawn to the natural sciences since childhood. However, she admits that she chose to study them mainly because of the shorter course of study and thus cheaper tuition fees. She did not want to put a financial strain on her family, who come from a very simple background. Towards the end of her studies, she longed for a career in research, but for a long time, she was unable to find even an unpaid internship to gain the necessary laboratory experience. It was a lucky coincidence that brought her into contact with the prestigious Institut Pasteur in France, where she is still professor emeritus nowadays. Early in her scientific career, she joined a research team researching the relationship between retroviruses and cancer. This foreshadowed her key contribution to modern medicine, the discovery of the HIV retrovirus.
- Dear Professor, what do you see as a crucial point or situation in your career?
Working on HIV/AIDS, I had the opportunity as a researcher to be in contact with people concerned by the infection in industrialized and in resource-limited settings. I consider this as a critical step in my career and beyond in my life.
- Do you think that any special character features of yours helped you succeed in what used to be a male-dominated field?
Motivations, determination, and persistence.
- You must have likely encountered some prejudices in your field as a woman. How did you overcome them?
Yes, I have, but I have overcome these situations by pursuing with determination to scientifically demonstrate what a woman is capable of.
- Have you encountered any book or a movie that has inspired you lately?
The movie “120 beats per minute”.
- Do you have any advice for young scientists at the beginning of their careers?
Give your best to contribute to improving the health and welfare of patients worldwide. In others words, do Science not for your own career, self-recognition, or reputation, but for others.