Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Swallowing bacteria; or, how to win a Nobel prize

Australian researchers Robin Warren and Barry Marshall recently won the Nobel prize for medicine. For what, you ask? For discovering that most stomach ulcers are caused not by stress but by a bacterium, specifically by Helicobacter pylori. They made the discovery back in the '80s, but it took "a long time to convince the medical community, who viewed them as eccentric." No surprise there. It's long been thought that ulcers are caused by stress, and Warren and Marshall were undoubtedly rocking a boat that doesn't much like to be rocked. According to Marshall, "[t]he idea of stress and things like that was just so entrenched nobody could really believe that it was a bacteria". However:

Thanks to the their work, stomach and intestinal ulcers are often no longer a long-term, frequently disabling problem.

They can now be cured with a short-term course of drugs and antibiotics.

It is now firmly established that the bacterium causes more than 90% of duodenal (intestinal) ulcers and up to 80% of gastric (stomach) ulcers.

So how did they do it? How did they finally convince the medical community that they were right -- so right that they won the Nobel prize for their "bloody obvious" discovery? Well, Marshall himself actually swallowed the bacterium and "became very ill".

Now that's dedication.

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  • I admire them for doing that and it just confirms my belief that the medical establishment uses "stress" as a catch all for things they can't explain. I've had stomach problems (not ulcers)since high school and doctors typically dismissed them as stress-related (or, less politely-psychsomatic). It was only years later that I discovered on my own that laying off caffein improved my condition substantially; ie, it was my diet that was the problem. I never had one doctor suggest that.

    Hurray for Professors Murray and Marshall! They are my heroes.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:08 AM  

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