If you've looked anything up today, you might have wondered why Google's logo features a sketch of a scientist. Georgios Papanikolaou was born a 136 years ago today and he was a Greek pioneer in cytopathology and early cancer detection.
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. He immigrated to the U.S.in 1913, initially working as a carpet salesman and playing violins in restaurants until Cornell recruited him to join their staff.
The Greek cytopathologist is best known for inventing the life-saving medical test, known as the Pap smear with his wife.
Despite first reporting that Pap smears are an effective way to detect cancer early in 1928, his findings were not widely recognized until they were published in the book Diagnosis of Uterine Cancer by the Vaginal Smear in 1943.
In 1961, he moved to Miami, Florida, to develop the Papanicolaou Cancer Research Institute at the University of Miami, but died shortly before it officially opened.
Papanikolaou started medical school at age 15, and after graduation served as an army surgeon in the Balkan wars.
Some research suggests that thanks to the Pap test, the cervical cancer death rate in the US has gone from up to 10 in every 1,000 women to 2 in every 1,000. 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.
The couples' scientific breakthrough came after recruiting a group of close friends to participate in a study for their research, which involved undergoing Pap smears.
He performed Pap smears on his subjects to perform analysis of the women's vaginal fluid and, after detecting malignant cells through a microscope in one sample, was able to diagnose one of his wife's friends with cervical cancer.
You might not know Georgios Papanikolaou's name, but you certainly know his most famous creation.
As a result of his work, Papanikolaou was twice nominated for the Nobel prize and received the Albert Lasker Award for Clinical Medical Research in 1950.
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