Athens hosts tribute to inventor of the Pap test

Athens hosted yesterday its first tribute to the Greek inventor of a revolutionary examination for the early detection of cervical cancer, George N. Papanicolaou, on the occasion of International Women’s Day and in response to statistics showing that less than one in four Greek women undergo regular Pap tests. According to recent research, around 1,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in Greece every year and the average age of those affected is dropping as women become sexually active at a younger age and change sexual partners more frequently than their mothers or grandmothers. It is these statistics that prompted the Mitera gynecological clinic and the Hellenic Anti-Cancer Society to collaborate with the Hellenic Nobel Museum in organizing yesterday’s landmark exhibition at the Syntagma metro station 78 years after Papanicolaou made his crucial discovery – an achievement for which he received a Nobel nomination but no prize. And it is this «great absentee from the list of Nobel medicine laureates» that inspired the above museum – a non-governmental organization aiming to promote Nobel laureates of the 20th century – to gather 18 written tributes from recent Nobel science laureates and showcase them alongside contributions dating back to 1978, when Nobel science laureates signed envelopes bearing a US postage stamp issued in Papanicolaou’s honor. The envelopes, which have gone on public display for the first time, will remain on show at Syntagma metro station today along with previously unpublished letters linked to famous women Nobel laureates, including Mother Teresa and Marie Curie. «This is the first time that so many Nobel laureates from the world of science have honored the work of a single scientist who is not a Nobel Prize winner,» said the directors of the Hellenic Nobel Museum, currently under construction in Halandri and due to open to the public in the spring of 2007. PASOK MP and former European social affairs commissioner Anna Diamantopoulou, who attended the inauguration of the exhibition, praised it as an «exceptional initiative» – both for raising awareness among Greek women of the importance of regular cervical inspections and for its recognition of Papanicolaou’s contribution to the world of medicine. The messages sent by Nobel laureates of recent years for the purpose of the landmark show all express respect for their fellow scientist’s work. «In memory of his major contribution to the diagnosis of cancer, I salute Dr Pap,» reads a message from Irwin Rose, America’s Nobel Prize winner for chemistry in 2004. Another missive from Tim Hunt, Britain’s Nobel laureate for medicine in 2001, ranks Papanicolaou among «the great examples» of scientific endeavor. Meanwhile, another American Nobel laureate, William D. Philips – who won the prize for physics in 1997 – highlights Papanicolaou’s «contribution to the health of women throughout the world, and to the struggle against cancer (as) an inspiration to the present international community.»