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Australians Win Nobel Medicine Prize for Ulcer Breakthrough

  • Roger Wilkison

Two Australian researchers have won the Nobel Prize for Medicine for their discovery that stomach and intestinal ulcers are caused by bacteria, not stress. The Swedish Nobel Prize committee cited the men's discovery as having proved that ulcers can be cured by antibiotics instead of surgery.

Barry Marshall and Robin Warren were about to have dinner together in the western Australian city of Perth when the news came from Stockholm that they had won the Nobel Prize.

The two men do not work together any more, but back in 1982 they made what the Nobel Committee called "the remarkable and unexpected discovery" that gastritis and peptic ulcer disease are the result of an infection caused by a then-unknown bacterium.

The duo faced an uphill struggle in their effort to prove their case.

Dr. Marshall says it took nearly a decade before their discovery was widely accepted in the medical community. "Well, in the beginning, nobody believed us, and, of course, everybody thought they knew the cause of ulcers was stress, so they said 'Well, we know the causes of ulcers, we do not need any new causes,'" he said.

In what the Nobel jury described as an extraordinary act that demonstrated outstanding dedication to his research, Dr. Marshall deliberately infected himself in 1985 with the bacterium that he and his colleague had discovered to prove that it caused acute gastric illness.

Drs. Marshall and Warren will share a check for $1.3 million.

The award for medicine is the first of the 2005 Nobel Prizes to be announced. Awards for physics, chemistry, economics and literature will be announced in Sweden over the next few days. The Nobel Peace Prize, which is awarded in Norway, is to be announced on Friday.