Today’s Doodle celebrates Georgios Papanikolaou, the Greek cytopathologist who worked with his wife to develop the life-saving medical test known as the Pap smear.
Born on the Greek island of Euboea on this day in 1883, Papanikolaou grew up the son of a doctor. Although he initially studied music and the humanities, he later chose to follow in his father’s footsteps and go into the medical field.
Papanikolaou started medical school at age 15, and after graduation served as an army surgeon in the Balkan wars. In 1913, he immigrated to the U.S. with his wife, Andromachi Mavroyenis. The couple initially struggled to make a living—Georgios sold carpets and played violin in restaurants and Mary sewed buttons for $5 a week—until he was recruited as a researcher at Cornell University. There, Georgios worked alongside his wife who served as a technician and sometimes test subject.
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. During the study, Papanikolaou detected malignant cells in one guest’s sample, diagnosing his wife’s friend with cervical cancer. Still widely used today, the simple, low-cost “Pap smear” makes early detection of cervical cancer in women possible, slashing fatalities in half (based on some estimates).
Nominated twice for the Nobel Prize, Papanikolaou received the Albert Lasker Award for Clinical Medical Research in 1950 and his portrait appeared on the Greek 10,000 drachma banknote as well as a 1978 U.S. postage stamp. A Miami cancer research institute that hired him late in his career was also renamed in his honor.
Happy 136th birthday, Georgios Papanikolaou!