Nobel Prize in Medicine: Australian dogma breakers in front of Dolly Father

Discoverers of the stomach bacterium Helicobacter pylori receive distinction

Helicobacter pylori © Karolinska Institute
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They were laughed at, their undogmatic methods criticized and their findings scrapped, but now their persistence is rewarded: For their discovery of the bacterium Helicobacter pylori and its association with gastric ulcer, the Australian researchers Barry Marshall and Robin Warren receive this year's Nobel Prize in Medicine.

Thus, the former outsiders of the medical establishment sat down against such prominent candidates as Luc Montagnier, the co-discoverer of the AIDS virus and Ian Wilmut, the creator of the clone sheep Dolly. In its explanatory statement, the Swedish Nobel Prize Committee emphasizes the perseverance with which the two researchers were able to support their findings against the prevailing dogma and finally prove it.

When the bacterium was first discovered by Warren in 1982, stress and an unhealthy lifestyle were the main causes of gastric ulcers. But the pathologist in Perth, Australia detected small rod-shaped bacteria in more than half of his routine stomach tissue samples. They were found especially when the tissue showed clear signs of inflammation.

Marshall, a junior resident at the time, picked up on these findings and made systematic investigations on patients. It turned out that it was almost always present when the people suffered from gastric inflammation or ulcers. Together, both researchers succeeded in determining and cultivating the hitherto unknown bacterium. They published their hypothesis about a connection between bacteria and pathological changes in the gastric mucosa - and were initially not taken seriously at all.

Helicobacter pylori © Karolinska Institute

Only after others confirmed the results and Barry Marshall in a self-experiment by swallowing a bacterial broth with him triggered a gastric inflammation, the attitude of the medical establishment began to change. Meanwhile, it has been proven that Helicobacter pylori is responsible for more than 90 percent of duodenal ulcers and about 80 percent of gastric ulcers. The micro-organism is also considered a risk factor and co-inducer for certain cancers. display

The discovery of a bacterium as the cause of one of the most common inflammations in humans also has implications for further research: as diseases such as Crohn's disease, rheumatoid arthritis and atherosclerosis are the causes of chronic inflammation Here, too, the search for a possible microbial trigger. Or, as the Nobel Prize committee puts it: "The discovery of Helicobacter pylori has significantly improved the understanding of the link between chronic infection, inflammation and cancer."

(Karolinska Institute, 04.10.2005 - NPO)