How Do You Win A Nobel Prize?

Apparently, you start out by being just a little bit crazy (emphasis mine):

Warren was the catalyst for the pair’s work. In 1979, while a pathologist at the Royal Perth Hospital in western Australia, he noticed small, curved bacteria in biopsies of the lower part of the stomachs of about half of the patients he examined.

The scientific establishment dismissed Warren’s findings, but Marshall, a gastroenterologist, was intrigued. They joined forces three years later and began trying to grow and identify the organism. After many frustrating attempts, Marshall succeeded only when he inadvertently left slides unattended over the Easter holiday in 1982 and returned to find thriving colonies of the microbe, enabling him to identify it as a previously unknown spiral-shaped bacteria, subsequently dubbed Helicobacter pylori .

The pair went on to show that the organism was present in virtually all patients with ulcers and gastritis, an inflammation of the stomach that sets the stage for ulcers, leading them to propose that the infection was the cause. Their claim was met by deep skepticism, in part because no one thought bacteria could survive in the harsh, acidic environment in the digestive system.

“One of the standard teachings in medicine was nothing grew in the stomach,” Warren said. “That was something that was being taught to students for 100 years.”

The prevailing wisdom was that ulcers, which are painful, sometimes debilitating sores in the lining of the stomach and intestines, were caused primarily by lifestyle factors, such as spicy food, and emotions, particularly stress.

“It was thought at the time that stress and lifestyle were the causes of peptic ulcer disease,” Staffan Normark, a member of the Nobel Assembly, said at a news conference at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.

Marshall finally decided to try to prove their case with a dramatic test — he swallowed a mixture containing the bacterium. A week later, he became violently ill. Lab tests and biopsies showed that he had been infected by the organism and that he had developed gastritis.

“At the time there were no animals that were susceptible to this bacteria. So Barry Marshall instead drank a culture of Helicobacter pylori ,” Normark said. “He could in this experiment show the bacteria was causing gastritis in the stomach, as evidenced by an inflammation.”

Marshall then ingested a combination of bismuth and antibiotics, which eradicated the infection and set the stage for a series of experiments demonstrating that antibiotics could treat gastritis.

It’s not indicated whether Marshall was in a relationship at the time of this experiment, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say no.

And if he were, I’m sure he was not as soon as he announced his intention to purposely ingest bacteria that would make him violently ill.

Kudos to these guys for revolutionizing the treatment of ulcers but jeez…find a better way to test your theorems!

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