Georgios Papanikolaou

Summary

Georgios Papanikolaou (Kymi, Evia, 13 May 1883 – Miami, USA, 19 February 1962) was a famous Greek physician, biologist and researcher. He was a pioneer in cytopathology, and for the early detection of cervical cancer. He is best known as the man who invented the pioneering cytodiagnostic method known as the Pap test, which gave life to women all over the world, according to a commemorative plaque at the G. Papanicolaou”.

He was born on 13 May 1883 in Kymi, Evia. His father Nikolaos Papanikolaou was a doctor and served as mayor of the city and was elected as a member of the Parliament of Evia and Karystia. George Papanikolaou spent his childhood in Kymi, where he finished primary school. Then his parents sent him to Athens to finish his secondary education. After completing his secondary school studies, he entered the Medical School of the University of Athens in 1898, at the age of 16.

years old. He received his degree in 1904, at the age of 21. He then fulfilled his military service. At that time, his father suggested, among other things, that he should follow the path of a military doctor, which suggestion, of course, he rejected. In a letter to his father he wrote:

“No, I don”t want to be a military doctor. I want to stay free, to feel the joy that the struggle of life gives. I”m not afraid of the sea. I want my freedom, my sweet freedom.”

He was a philanthropist. In Athens, during his studies, he broadened his education by learning foreign languages, such as French, which was then considered necessary for cultured people. However, he was interested in philosophy, literature and music, which was his great passion. Thus, for eight years he studied the violin. He took lessons at the Lotner Conservatory. After completing his studies at the Medical School, he returned to Kymi. On returning there, however, he pondered why he became a doctor, since he did not want to practice that profession. Every day, taking countless walks, in Kymi, he became closer to philosophy. Friedrich Nietzsche played a big role in his way of thinking. He was also involved with: Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Immanuel Kant, and Arthur Schopenhauer.

His father sacrificed their savings, knowing George”s character and abilities, so in 1907 he sent him to Germany for higher studies. His friend Alexandros Delmouzos played a decisive role in Papanikolaou”s decision.

Papanikolaou chose the field of biology. Initially, he went to Jena, which was the first station of his postgraduate training. There he attended the classes of Professor Ernest Haikel. In 1908 he continued his studies in Freiburg and finally in Munich, with great professors of the time: Hertwig and Weissmann. In 1910 he was awarded a doctorate in Philosophy for his work on the conditions of sex differentiation in the Daphnes. This period was a period of philosophical reflection. He maintained his relations with Alexandros Delmouzos and Georgios Skleros, with the well-known literary man Konstantinos Hatzopoulos and M. Zavitsiano, with whom Papanikolaou formed a socialist group of short-lived duration. He was an advocate of demoticism, and, in general, at the time identified with radical ideas about science and politics. In particular, he wrote an article in the Athenian magazine “O Numas”, entitled “On Egoism and Egoists”, (which was in principle a response to an article published in a previous issue entitled “Egoism or Eros”). An interesting article, which captures in it, the thoughts and perceptions that Papanicolaou had at the time. Ultimately, he is overcome by biology and research and it becomes his life goal. He once wrote to his father: “I am no longer a dreamer. Science has taken me from the hands of Nietzsche. I am treading on solid ground…”.

On 15 September 1910 he married Andromache Mavrogeni. In 1912, he participated in the Balkan Wars. However, he understood that things were not auspicious in the country for him.

His first stop is France. There he works at the Oceanographic Institute of Monaco, in the scientific team of Prince Albert I of Monaco.

When the war ended, in 1913, he left for America with Andromache. Conditions were difficult due to financial difficulties. As a result, they both worked in a commercial shop, selling carpets and sewing buttons for $5 a week. However, the poor and unknown immigrant developed rapidly. First, from a store clerk and a reporter for a Greek newspaper, he barely won a position in the Columbia University Anatomy Laboratory and, later, a position at Cornell University in New York. From there he worked uninterrupted, showing his innumerable abilities.

He was subsequently elected professor, associate professor and, finally, full professor of anatomy and histology at the medical faculty of this University. After lengthy research on the degenerative hereditary effect of alcohol in guinea pigs, Papanicolaou turned to reproductive problems related to genital function, sex determination, endocrine gland function, and sex hormones.

In 1954, Papanikolaou published the monumental work “Atlas of Exfoliative Cytology”, officially establishing the new medical practice and specialty that he essentially developed from scratch.

Today, the Pap test (Pap test) is used worldwide for the diagnosis of cervical cancer, precancerous dysplasia and other cytological diseases of the female reproductive system.

In 1923 he applied his method to women, to study normal genital functions and then to diagnose cervical cancer. His first communication on the use of the cytological method for the diagnosis of cervical cancer, in 1928, was received with much scepticism, since the prevailing opinion at the time was that such research and application on exfoliated cells was practically impossible. Such a diagnosis was considered possible, up to that time, only by incision of the affected organ.

Papanikolaou”s research was subsequently extended to the cytological changes in cancer of the neck of the uterus and the endometrium, the findings of which he published in 1943 jointly with Professor Herbert Traust, Professor of gynecology, in a special monograph entitled “Diagnosis of Uterine Cancer by the Vaginal Smear”. The publication of this work was bound to arouse worldwide medical interest and cause the immediate trial use of the method in various hospitals. In 1944 the first application was made on the urinary system and then on the digestive and other systems of the body.

With these works, Papanikolaou became the founder of a new scientific branch of “exfoliative cytology” based on the study of the cells of the body in the various cavities of the body. This method, which was named the ”Papanicolaou Method” or ”Papanicolaou Test” in his honour, and also known as the ”Pap Test”, opened up new horizons in medical research in genetic physiology and endocrinology, particularly for cancer.

In November 1961, accompanied always by his wife and research partner, Mahi, he left New York City as he accepted to take over the organization and management of a Cancer Institute in Miami, Florida. The change of environment and general fatigue, for the needs of the Institute, was crucial. He died on February 19, 1962, of a heart attack. George Papanikolaou”s death was a great loss to science.

Papanikolaou”s writing was extensive and original, consisting of 158 articles and 5 papers. These particular writings – especially the famous Atlas of Apophelidotic Cytology – were landmark books because of the accuracy of their text and their excellent illustrations. Not only in the field of cytology, but also, more generally, in the entire medical literature of the 20th century.

The Greek scientist worked for almost half a century at Cornell University Medical College in New York. At the forefront of world medical research and on the front lines of the international fight against cancer, he remained a silent fighter of the spirit, tenacious and unflappable, tireless and humble, maintaining unbreakable ties with Greece. He was interested in politics, spirit and social currents and appreciated the national work of Eleftherios Venizelos and Constantine Karamanlis.



The Greek scientist worked for almost half a century at Cornell University Medical College in New York. At the forefront of world medical research and on the front lines of the international fight against cancer, he remained a silent fighter of the spirit, tenacious and unflappable, tireless and humble, maintaining unbreakable ties with Greece. He was interested in politics, spirit and social currents and appreciated the national work of Eleftherios Venizelos and Constantine Karamanlis.


Sources


  1. Γεώργιος Παπανικολάου
  2. Georgios Papanikolaou