Georgios Papanikolaou: Papa of the Pap Smear

Georgios Papanikolaou The story of a scientist and pioneer

Georgios Papanikolaou The story of a scientist and pioneer

Its effect on reducing fatalities from the disease are hard to calculate accurately, but Cancer Research estimates that rates have nearly halved in the United Kingdom since cervical screening was introduced in the 1980s. And behind the unprecedented test is a man who collaborated with his wife in an effort to save women's lives: Georgios Papanikolaou.

Monday's Google Doodle paid tribute to Georgios Papanikolaou, the Greek medic and researcher who invented the smear test to detect early signs of cervical and uterine cancer.

Georgios Papanikolaou was born in Kymi, Greece, on 13 May 1883, and studied medicine at the University of Athens after initially pursuing music and the humanities.

Papanikolaou was only 15 when he started medical school. Six years later, he graduated with top honors.

After marrying they moved to USA, and reportedly told his parents his "ideal in life was neither to become rich, nor to live happily, but to work, act, create and do something worthy of a man who is moral and strong".

The couple had a breakthrough when they were asked to participate in a study looking at how cells in the vagina and uterus change during the menstrual cycle in the 1920s.

To conduct a study for his research, he not only convinced his wife (and lab technician) Mary to be a test subject, but also a group of close friends, taking vaginal smears and studying them under a microscope for malignant cells.

He is credited to have said: "The first observation of cancer cells in the smear of the uterine cervix was one of the most thrilling experiences of my scientific career".

The Pap smear is still widely used to this day and is estimated to have reduced fatalities caused by cancer of the reproductive systems in women by half because of early detection.

Dr Papanikolaou's work earned him two Nobel Prize nominations, and he received the prestigious Albert Lasker Award for Clinical Medical Research in 1950.

The doctor was later honoured with an appearance on an American 13-cent stamp in 1978, while his portrait adorned the Greek 10,000 drachma banknote from 1995 until it was replaced by the Euro in 2001.

If you've looked anything up today, you might have wondered why Google's logo features a sketch of a scientist. He wished to develop the Papanicolaou Cancer Research Institute at the University of Miami, which he did not accomplish. He is the creator of the ever-important Pap smear, or smear test.

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