Georgios Papanikolaou: Papa of the Pap Smear - FactzPedia


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Georgios Papanikolaou: Papa of the Pap Smear

Georgios Papanikolaou: Papa of the Pap Smear
For better or worse, few of us have inherently positive associations with routine medical exams. But while you'd be hard pressed to find any woman super stoked to receive a cervical cancer screener known as the Pap smear (or Pap test), learning about the procedure's game-changing introduction into modern medicine might give you a newfound appreciation for its significance. And behind the unprecedented test is a man who collaborated with his wife in an effort to save women's lives: Georgios Papanikolaou.

Born on the Greek island of Euboea in 1883, Papanikolaou followed in his doctor dad's footsteps and graduated from medical school with top honors at the age of 21. Compassion played a major role in Papanikolaou's professional endeavors from the start; after working as an assistant surgeon in the military, he spent two years caring for socially isolated leprosy patients outside of his hometown. In 1910, he received a Ph.D. in zoology from Germany's University of Munich and married Andromache Mavroyeni (Mary), the daughter of a famous military family, soon after. The couple moved to the U.S. in 1913 and

It didn't take long, however, for Papanikolaou to land a research position in the pathology department of New York Hospital and the department of anatomy at Cornell University. With his wife by his side as a technician and sometimes-test-subject, Papanikolaou began studying sex determination in guinea pigs, and quickly found that some cells in the vagina and uterus changed throughout the menstrual cycle. Curious to know if the same changes could be observed in humans, he performed the same examinations on his wife and several (clearly very trusting) female friends, collecting cell samples from the outer opening of each test subject's cervix. After scraping a few cells from the area, Papanikolaou smeared the samples onto a glass slide and examined them under a microscope.

What the doctor observed through his lens changed the landscape of female health care: One of the friend's samples was made up of mutated, malignant cancer cells. In 1928, Papanikolaou presented the findings at a medical conference, a year after a Romanian scientist named Aurel Babes had demonstrated a similar technique. But because Papanikolaou implemented the method first and introduced a unique way of applying the cells to slides, he's the one credited with the innovation (although in Romania, the test is called Methode Babeş-Papanicolaou).

Scientific circles weren't quick to accept

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