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(April 3, 1894 - January 28, 1963)
Born in the United States
Year of Discovery: 1941
Worked to Develop Cervical Cancer Test
In 1931, Herbert Traut met George Papanikolaou when he joined the faculty of the Cornell University Medical College. The collaboration of these two men led to a major breakthrough in the early detection of uterine and cervical cancer, saving the lives of over 6 million women around the world!
Traut was a Kansan and served in World War I. He was awarded the French Croix de Guerre (for heroism), but he also received a leg wound from combat that would trouble him for the rest of his life. Following the war, Traut obtained his medical education at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
When they met, George Papanikolaou had been working on a method of collecting and interpreting cervical cells from women, in an effort to detect cancer. In 1928 he had presented his findings at a medical conference in Michigan, but was met with scepticism. At the time, many physicians and scientists thought the idea of examining scraped dead cells for cancer was ridiculous and believed a biopsy was the only way to accurately detect it. Herbert Traut thought Papanikolaou's ideas were good and the two formed a team. In 1940 they began training medical technologists to distinguish healthy from unhealthy cells on a microscope slide after a vaginal smear. If the cells changed from flat to fat, they indicated cancer. Following the same women for two years, they were thrilled to find the smear detected some cancer cases that were still in the early stages-so early they were not found in normal biopsies! This meant the cancer could be found early enough to cure. Papanikolaou and Traut published their groundbreaking findings in a 1943 monograph titled, Diagnosis of uterine cancer by the vaginal smear.
Some controversy exists about this discovery. Years earlier in Romania, Aurel Babes developed a very similar test. His findings were presented in Romania and published in French. Papanikolou and Traut were unaware of Babes original work, but because their presentation reached the English speaking scientific community, it received notice and acclaim. More importantly, it resulted in an active program to prevent cancer-a gold-standard test for cervical cancer known as the Pap smear.
Introduction by April Ingram
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The secret history of the war on cancer, by Davis, referencing Traut's work with Papanikolaou:
University of Nebraska Medical Center profile of Papanikolaou, referencing Traut:
University of California obituary and biography:
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The Science Behind the Discovery
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