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(1886 - December 31, 1961)
Born in Romania
Year of Discovery: 1927
Started the Path towards Pap Smears Which Revolutionized Cervical Cancer Detection
In the early 1900s scientists from all over the world were hard at work in remote hospitals and laboratories. At the time there were few medical journals, many language barriers, and certainly no internet - updating the medical community about new discoveries was extremely challenging! This often resulted in more than one scientist working on the same project without any knowledge that others were doing similar work, or had already made a major discovery. This is what happened to Dr. Aurel Babes, a Romanian scientist. Few people may know who Aurel Babes was, or what scientific discovery he made, but it was a tremendous breakthrough in cervical cancer diagnosis and has saved the lives of over 6 million women.
Aurel Babes was born in 1886, in Romania. His father, also named Aurel, was a chemistry professor and his uncle was renowned medical scientist Victor Babes-so he was genetically well equipped for scientific greatness. Babes would become an honored physician and gynecologist in Romania. He discovered that if a platinum loop was used to collect cells from a woman's cervix, and the cells were then dried on a slide and stained, it could be determined if cancer cells were present. This was the first screening test to diagnose cervical and uterine cancer. Very excited by the results of his work, Babes presented his findings to the Romanian Society of Gynaecology in Bucharest on January 23, 1927. His method of cancer diagnosis was published in a highly respected French medical journal, Presse Médicale on April 11, 1928. Unfortunately, Babes' incredible discovery was presented in Romanian and published in French, neither of which was easily available to the English-speaking scientific community.
In late 1928 Georges Papanikolaou, a Greek gynecologist, reported that uterine cancer could be diagnosed by means of a vaginal smear - the same discovery made by Babes the previous year! It is thought that Papanikolaou was unaware of Babes original work, but because Papanikolaou's presentation reached the English speaking scientific community, it received notice and acclaim. Consequently, the test for cervical cancer screening, for the past 80 years, has been known as the "Pap Smear", not the "Bab Smear". Papanikolaou presented his findings at a meeting in 1928, but did not publish his major work until 1943, 15 years after Babes published his discovery in the French medical journal.
Aurel Babes married fellow gynecologist Lucia Serbanescu in 1930. They adopted a daughter, who became an acclaimed opera singer. Babes was 74 years old when he died in Bucharest in 1961.
It is said that Aurel Babes was very aware of the great international reputation that Georges Papanikolaou had gained in contrast to his own. In a spirit of recognition and fairness, Romania refers to cervical testing as "Methode Babes-Papanicolaou" in honor of Dr. Babes.
Introduction by April Ingram
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Brief Biographical entry for Aurel Babes at AbsoluteAstronomy.com:
Babes' contributions discussed in The History of Obstetrics and Gynecology:
The History of Obstetrics and Gynecology
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The Science Behind the Discovery
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