Nobel winners tell of ridicule

Two Australian researchers awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine for pioneering research on stomach ulcers, have describe the long and arduous road to recognition.

The research proves that stomach ulcers are caused by bacteria and can be best treated with antibiotics.

Barry Marshall and Robin Warren "made the remarkable and unexpected discovery" in 1982.

They found that gastritis and peptic ulcer disease are the result of an infection caused by the Helicobacter pylori bacterium.

They faced an uphill struggle to prove the theory to a doubting world.

But determined to prove their case Professor Marshall went so far as to swallow a solution containing the bug and became dreadfully ill.

“I didn’t think about it very much and probably I wouldn’t have done it if I had really thought it through,” said Professor Marshall.

He thus made his point to a sceptical medical community which had believed bacteria could not survive in the acidic environment of the stomach, instead blaming ulcers on a weak lining, spicy food and stress.

The 54 year old father of four researches at the Queen Elizabeth II Medical Centre at the University of Western Australia.

Professor Warren, 68, was born in Adelaide in South Australia and now lives in Perth where he worked as a pathologist at the Royal Perth Hospital until 1999.

The two men, who no longer work together, were sitting down to an annual dinner together in Perth on Monday when Professor Warren received the Nobel Committee's call on his cell phone.

"I'm amazed and a bit shocked to tell you the truth after all these years," Professor Warren told Australian Associated Press.

"For me the main thing is that it finally puts the seal of approval on my work and people can't argue about it any more," he said.

Professor Marshall said his decision to swallow the bacteria was a natural choice.

"Any new discovery is going to be controversial and initially most people won't believe it because you are going to be knocking over some kind of dogma, and that's where we were," he recalled.

The two are the first Australians to win a Nobel Medicine Prize since 1996, when Peter C Doherty won with Rolf M Zinkernagel of Switzerland for their discovery of how the immune system recognizes virus-infected cells.

Stomach ulcers are one of the most common diseases of mankind.

"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 Nobel jury said.
Before the discovery of the bacterium in 1982, stress and lifestyle were considered the major causes of ulcers.

But it has now been firmly established that Helicobacter pylori causes more than 90 percent of duodenal ulcers and up to 80 percent of gastric ulcers.

The infection is typically contracted in early childhood, frequently by transmission from mother to child, and the bacteria may remain in the stomach for the rest of the person's life.

In most people there are no symptoms, but 10 to 15 percent of people will develop an ulcer at some time.

In severe cases, bleeding and perforation may occur, or even stomach cancer, which is the world's number two killer among cancers.

The laureates will share the A$1.7 milliom prize money.

The Medicine Prize kicks off the season of Nobels, first awarded in 1901.

The prize for physics will be announced on Tuesday, chemistry on Wednesday, the peace prize on Friday and the economics prize on October 10.

The literature prize is traditionally awarded on a Thursday, although the actual date is only announced 48 hours in advance.

Source SBS

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