Throw Back Thrusday: The Pap Test Invented

Dr. George Papanicolaou Inventor of the pap smear

On Throwback Thursday we take a moment to celebrate Dr. George Papanicolaou who  invested the pap smear,. The degree to which this improved the health of women is untold, and like many other discoveries it was stumbled on, it was not something he set out to discover.  Dr. George began his career in a very different direction, and his doctoral thesis was on parthenogenesis. In his original appointment to Cornell medical school the research guinea pig colony had an over abundance of animals, and he decided to begin to look at material that might help him discover sexual differentiation from the x and y chromosomes to control the reproduction of the guinea pigs. They didn't have the tests we have now, and he was looking to figure out when the female guinea pigs were fertile. It was a messy and inaccurate business to constantly have to kill the animals to analyze stages of the ovary to obtain the cells doctors would use to determine where in the cycle the research animals were, he wanted to study when a light bulb went off in his head: he'd only have to start studying the periodic vaginal discharge. It was so scant, he decided to study those cells with daily vaginal smears: and the pap test was inventive.The test quickly became used in New York, beginning around 1923, but his landmark paper was published in 1928. Now we have improved the pap smear so much, that some studies think that we can identify almost as many cancers with less frequent pap smears than we did with yearly testing. We have added HPV testing, and we have added testing for the actual activity of the HPV virus, and can now identify the 5% of women with HPV disease who actually have a significant lesion with the GenCerv test. So when you remember to get your pap smears, think of Dr. George!


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