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Traut, Herbert

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Herbert Traut

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Herbert Traut
(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.

Dr. Traut lived a dynamic life. He was an accomplished cellist and a gun collector. He even mixed gunpowder to load into his own shells, to shoot from his guns.


Introduction by April Ingram


Table of Contents

Links to More Information About the Scientist
Key Insight
Key Experiment or Research
Key Contributors
Quotes by the Scientist
Quotes About the Scientist
Fun Trivia About The Science
The Science Behind the Discovery
Personal Information
Science Discovery Timeline
Recommended Books About the Science
Books by the Scientist
Books About the Scientist
Major Academic Papers
Curriculum Vitae
Links to Science and Related Information on the Subject


Links to More About the Scientist & the Science

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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Key Insight

Key Experiments or Research


Key Contributors

The Team
Explore other scientists who furthered this lifesaving advance.

Cervical Cancer

Georgios Ppanikolaou
His Pap Smear test has saved millions of lives.
Aurel Babes
Revolutionized the field of cervical cancer detection.

Quotes by the Scientist

Quotes About the Scientist


Fun Trivia About the Science

The Science Behind the Discovery

Personal Information

Scientific Discovery Timeline

Recommended Books About the Science

Books by the Scientist

Books About the Scientist



Major Academic Papers Written by the Scientist

Curriculum Vitae

Links to Information on the Science