1950 Albert Lasker Clinical Medical Research Award

Pap smear for detecting cervical cancer

George Papanicalaou is presented a Lasker Award for 1950 for his outstanding contributions to research related to cancer, a prominent cause of death and disability. His discovery is of a method for defining, among the cells exfoliated from tissue surfaces, those which reveal the changes characteristic of specific biological processes. Among these is the one we know as neoplastic disease. The importance of exfoliative cytology has been amply established as providing a relatively quick, easy and accurate test of at least partial diagnostic value for cancer of some types. Less obvious, but equally meaningful, are certain research suggestions capable of being drawn from these data.

It seems not impossible that repeated observations using this cytological method will reveal the earliest changes of cancer. These changes, when regularly demonstrable, may provide an index of the effectiveness of procedures designed to restore pre-neoplastic cells to normal. This makes feasible for the first time a study of cancer prevention in human beings. The examination of desquamated cells provides a method for measuring precisely a variety of biological phenomena, particularly those resulting from hormone activity. By the application of this measure, new information unavailable by any other means has come to hand. From the evidence, more may be expected in the future.

The work recognized by this Award provides once more evidence that knowledge tends to increase almost linearly with the availability of quantitative techniques. They are the extension of the perceptive mechanism of the investigator. Without perception, concept is difficult, if not impossible.