Nobel for scientist who poisoned himself to prove his ulcer theory

The discovery that bacteria rather than stress cause stomach ulcers and that antibiotics can cure the condition has won this year's Nobel prize in physiology or medicine.

Two Australian scientists who isolated the microbe responsible for peptic ulcers and were the first to show the condition is infectious were yesterday jointly awarded the £1m prize.

In 1982, Robin Warren, a pathologist at the Royal Perth Hospital, was the first to show that patients with chronic ulcers also tended to harbour colonies of bacteria in their stomachs.

Barry Marshall, a researcher at the University of Western Australia, became interested in Professor Warren's findings and initiated the studies that led to the identification of the bacterium responsible, which they named Helicobacter pylori.

Dr Marshall went on to test the theory personally by deliberating exposing himself to the bug and so triggering a bout of acute gastric illness in his own stomach.

Until the two scientists carried out their pioneering research, it was widely believed that nothing could live in the extremely acid environment of the stomach, and that ulcers and gastritis were the result of lifestyle and stress.

Professor Warren said it took a decade for others to accept their findings. "Everybody believed there were no bacteria in the stomach. When I said they were there, no one believed it," he said.

The Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm said the two scientists showed that it was possible to cure rather than simply treat the symptoms of stomach ulcers.

"Thanks to the pioneering discovery of Marshall and Warren, peptic ulcer disease is no longer a chronic, frequently disabling condition, but a disease that can be cured by a short regimen of antibiotics and acid secretion inhibitors," the assembly said.

The two scientists managed to challenge prevailing dogmas with tenacity and a prepared mind, the assembly said. They presented an irrefutable case that the bacterium H. pylori is the cause of the disease, it added.

Dr Marshall's first attempt at culturing the bacterium failed and it was only after he had left the bug in the laboratory over an Easter holiday that he achieved success.

Lord May of Oxford, president of the Royal Society in London, said the work of the two scientists produced one of the most radical and important changes in the past 50 years in the perception of a medical condition.

"Their results led to the recognition that gastric disorders are infectious diseases, and overturned the previous view that they were physiological illnesses," Lord May said.

"In 1985, Marshall showed by deliberately infecting himself with the bacterium Helicobacter pylori that it caused acute gastric illness. This extraordinary act demonstrated outstanding dedication and commitment to his research," he said.

Professor Brian Spratt, a molecular microbiologist at Imperial College in London, said: "Drug companies had to radically change their approach from containing ulcers with antacids to treating with antibiotics. Ulcers predispose people to gastric cancer - so antibiotics also prevent cancer."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

    £15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

    Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

    £15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

    Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

    Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

    £18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

    Day In a Page

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

    Dame Harriet Walter interview

    The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links