Web Zap*Germs Archive

October 03, 2005

Australians Win Nobel Prize for Breakthrough Ulcer Discovery

It's been a long time coming -- 25 years or so -- but Robin Warren and Barry Marshall have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine. The two researchers, who worked at the Royal Perth Hospital in Australia during the early 1980s, together discovered and proved that a previously unknown bacteria (Helicobacter pylori) is responsible for gastric and duodenal ulcers.

The medical establishment was highly skeptical of their hypothesis, as ulcers were assumed to be caused by stress, and that no bacteria could survive the highly acid stomach environment. Marshall proved their hypothesis like a true medical pioneer: he downed a flask of Helicobacter-laced liquid, and soon had a raging stomach ulcer. An antibiotic regimen quickly cured it, however.

Wrote the Nobel committee:
It is now firmly established that Helicobacter pylori causes more than 90 percent of duodenal ulcers and up to 80 percent of gastric ulcers.

Thanks to the pioneering discovery by 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 WaPo noted, "In addition, scientists have deciphered how the bacteria causes disease and found that it can also increase the risk of stomach cancer, a major killer in many parts of the world.

Moreover, the discovery spurred interest in whether other infectious agents cause diseases that are due to chronic inflammation, such as Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, rheumatoid arthritis and heart disease."


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