Esteemed U of L doctor talks family, science

By on January 22, 2014
Dr. Diane Harper

Howard Stikes–

She has appeared on shows with Dr. Oz and Katie Couric. In the spring of 2013, in Monte Carlo, the Prince and Princess of Monaco presented her with the Prix Monaco. This award honors an international female role model for their work throughout the world serving humanity. She is recognized internationally for her dedication and accomplishments as a researcher, teacher and clinician in the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of the human papilloma virus, HPV-associated diseases.
Adding to her endless list of accomplishments, Dr. Diane Harper, chair of the department of family and geriatric medicine at the University of Louisville, she is a wife and proud mother of two sons.
“I grew up in Kansas City. My mother was from the state of Missouri and father was from Kansas. Living on the border of those two states was like the compromise of both worlds. My mother was a school teacher and my father was an engineer,” said Harper.
She said, “I am the older of two children, I have a sister.” She said her mother was an incredible role model for her sister and herself. “She was graceful, poised, intellectually inclined and was very well read. She believed in teaching, working hard, she believed in equality and education.” She said her father was an excellent role model as well however as a daughter, she and her sister tended to be closer to their mother. Harper said that her mother was very traditional in her concerns that she and her sister grow up, get married and have children.
Harper said her father was always very supportive in their educational pursuits. “He believed in the both of us having the education to support ourselves along with having the ability to speak our minds.” She said, consequently the family did a lot with school and that education was very important to the family.
Harper was an excellent student. She said she was drawn to math and engineering. She earned a degree in chemical engineering and a Master’s degree in polymers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. While at MIT, her mother developed breast cancer and passed before she graduated.
Harper said, the experience of coming home to be with her mother during the last six months of her life is when she decided to pursue medicine as a career.
She said her mother had excellent surgeons and oncologists however, there was no one that really put the whole picture together for her. It was then she felt that there was a need to have a holistic approach for patience when they entered into the medical system. “Patience need an overall understanding of what happens when they enter into the medical system, and how to get through that same said system.”
Harper earned her medical degree and master of public health degree from the University of Kansas Medical School. She did her residency training in obstetrics and gynecology there as well.

Harper has received significant awards regarding her research. In 2002 and 2000, she was awarded Best Research of the Year from the American Society of Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology.
She said her take home message regarding the much talked about HPV vaccinations is that women have a choice and should be as informed as much as possible. She, said that women should not get consumed in the hype that the vaccinations are barriers and the ultimate in preventing cervical cancer.
“The vaccines are a choice but not to be thought of as eradicating the virus. Even when women have been vaccinated, regular pap-smears should be part of the health care regimen.”
She said that there are two vaccines that are on the market, Gardisil and Cervarix. “Currently Gardisil is FDA approved in the United States and Cervarix is approved in Europe and not the US.” She said that Cervarix is a two dose regimen and Gardisil is a three dose regimen.
Harper said, “At this time in the United States…nothing yet, is going to take the place of pap- smear screening in the prevention of cervical cancer!”
Harper worked extensively with both companies in the clinical trials of both vaccines.

Photo by Howard Stikes/Louisville Cardinal.

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