Nobel laureate Barry Marshall drank bacterial culture in 1984 to prove link to gastric ulcer

SINGAPORE — Although it is commonly believed today that gastric ulcers are usually caused by infection with a specific type of bacteria, less is known about the scientist who helped discover it and his unorthodox quest for the to prove.

In 1982, while Professor Barry Marshall was a trainee doctor at the Royal Perth Hospital in Australia, he learned that Dr Robin Warren, a pathologist there, had discovered that biopsy samples from patients with gastric ulcers contained traces of ‘a spiral-shaped bacterium known as Helicobacter pylori.

“At that time, the discovery was unprecedented, given that gastric ulcers had in the past been associated with stress or lifestyle choices, and were considered a chronic disease,” Professor Marshall told the Straits. Times in an interview on Zoom last Tuesday (January 11).

Professor Marshall is one of 21 scientists and Nobel laureates attending the Global Young Scientists Summit, hosted by the National Research Foundation, this week.

Additionally, it was thought to be impossible for bacteria to survive in the inhospitable lining of the stomach, since stomach acid has a pH of 1.5, making it about 10 to 20 times more acidic. than lemon juice.

Intrigued, Professor Marshall was determined to find out if the bacteria was important in causing gastric ulcers and decided to join Dr Warren in his research.

Together they conducted a study of biopsies from 100 patients.

The bacteria were present in almost all patients with gastric inflammation, duodenal ulcers (an ulcer that develops in the first part of the small intestine) or gastric ulcers.

“But here’s the thing…successful infections don’t kill you. They just live there on your body so you can pass them on to everyone else, much like the Omicron variant.

“Eighty percent of people (infected with) the Helicobacter the bacteria never got sick from it, and they could just pass it on to other family members, for example,” Professor Marshall said.

“It got a little confusing because we found that a lot of people with the stomach bacteria seemed to be doing pretty well, and 80% of those with it didn’t have stomach ulcers or cancer. much later,” he added.

“So when we published this idea in 1983 that the bacteria might be carcinogenic, people didn’t believe it because it was too common,” said Professor Marshall, 70.

When they tried to present the research paper at a gastroenterology meeting, they were rejected and the judges told them it was “shameful” to produce research like this.

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