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Australian Scientists Awarded Nobel Prize for Revolutionary Ulcer Treatment


Two Australian scientists have won the 2005 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for showing that many stomach ulcers are caused by a bacterial infection and not stress or lifestyle. The findings by Barry Marshall and Robin Warren have revolutionized the treatment of these ulcers, even though their work was initially ridiculed.

More than 20 years ago Dr. Robin Warren found a link between bacteria and patients with certain types of ulcers and gastritis, an inflammation of the stomach. It was the first time such a connection had been made.

The prevailing view at the time was that ulcers were caused by stress and lifestyle or were related to aspirin and anti-arthritis drugs. Dr. Warren's findings were dismissed and - at times - ridiculed.

Most medical professionals believed that bacteria could not survive, let alone cause disease, in the acidic conditions of the stomach.

To prove the doubters wrong, another member of the research team, Dr. Barry Marshall, swallowed a glassful of the bacteria.

Several days later he became violently ill with acute gastritis.

Dr. Marshall says the discomfort was worth it.

"In 1984, I drank the bacteria to show they could in fact infect a healthy person and cause ulcers, so maybe that was a bit of an exciting year for me too," he said. "To be honest we knew it was an important discovery right from the start, but it of course took quite a few years to convince everybody else of that."

The work of these two pioneering Australian scientists has improved the lives of millions of people.

Their discovery means many previously debilitating stomach ulcers can now be cured by antibiotics.

Dr. Staffan Normark of Sweden's Karolinska Institute, which chooses the annual Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, said the work of the Australian researchers was a "major discovery".

The Noble award consists of a $1.3 million prize, a gold medal and an audience with the Swedish royal family at the official ceremony in Stockholm in December.