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Small Facts About Big Figures


Guinea-pig doctor discovers new cure for ulcers … and the cause

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the year 2005 was jointly awarded to Barry James Marshall and Robin Warren for their discovery of the bacterium Helicobacter pylori (HP) and its role in gastric and peptic ulcer. This discovery not only unveiled the role of the bacterial pathogen HP in one of the most common gastro-intestinal diseases, the gastric ulcer but it could also prove that the disease can be cured by eliminating the organism by treatment with antibiotics.

Barry James Marshall in his biography had nicely elaborated their struggle to establish the organism, HP as the cause of one of the highly prevalent and unexplained diseases of that time, the gastric ulcer. The journey which started in the year 1981 and finally fetched them the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in the year 2005 was not very easy. Marshall graduated from the University of Western Australia as an MBBS in the year 1975 and then after a brief period of practice he went for higher studies to become a specialist physician in 1978. As a part of his higher study, he was involved in a project of Gastroenterology Division in the Royal Perth Hospital in 1981, where he met Robin Warren with whom later he shared the Nobel Prize.

Robin Warren has already been working on some patients having complaint of severe stomach pain with reddish spot on gastric mucosa but had not been able to find any solution to this problem and wanted the newly joined project fellow Dr. Marshall to help him. This was the beginning of a glorious and troublesome journey, which culminated in the Stockholm Concert Hall on 10 December 2005. The two scientists worked tirelessly amidst lot of ups and downs of personal and professional life for the next 23 years to convince the world about their discovery. At times it was so difficult and frustrating to establish their findings that the results of a failed attempt to establish experimental infection in animal model led Marshall to take a strange and dangerous decision to use himself as the laboratory animal for the HP infection. So, he drank a beaker of live HP culture, the findings of which was recorded by him as-

I was taken by surprise by the severity of the infection. When I came home with my biopsy results showing colonization and classic histological damage to my stomach, Adrienne (his wife) suggested it was time to treat myself. I had a successful infection, I had proved my point”.

Probably, Dr. Marshall was the first and will remain the last patient in the history of medical science who was happy to find himself in the worst possible condition of a disease. He fortunately recovered and this story was published in a popular news paper of that time in USA carrying the title “Guinea-pig doctor discovers new cure for ulcers … and the cause”, from which the title of this article has been borrowed. Gradually, things became little easier for them and the newspaper publication helped them to get many patients with HP infection. Finally they could establish the association of HP with gastric ulcers to a convincing level, for which Marshall and Warren shared the Nobel Prize of Medicine or Physiology in the year 2005.

Source: Wikipedia and Nobelprize.org

Dr. Luit M Barkalita
Deputy Coordinator & Assistant Professor
Department of Animal Biotechnology,
College of Veterinary Science, AAU,
Khanapara, Guwahati-22, Assam, India.
E-mail: luit@vetbifguwahati.ernet.in

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