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Barry James Marshall

Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

2005

Until the early 1980s, stress and lifestyle choices were thought to be the major causes of peptic ulcer disease, which includes gastric ulcers. Professor Barry Marshall discovered that a bacterial species, later named Helicobacter pylori, was responsible instead.

Due to the seminal work of Prof Marshall and his research partner Prof Robin Warren, peptic ulcer disease is no longer a chronic, frequently disabling disease, but can be cured by a short course of antibiotics and acid secretion inhibitors.

In 2005, the two scientists received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their life-changing breakthroughs, with the Nobel Prize committee noting: “The discovery that one of mankind’s most common diseases, peptic ulcer disease, has a microbial cause, has stimulated the search for microbes as possible causes of other chronic inflammatory diseases.”

It added: “The discovery of Helicobacter pylori has led to an increased understanding of the connection between chronic infection, inflammation and cancer.”

Prof Marshall’s continued research on Helicobacter pylori includes its potential use in medical treatment. He founded Ondek, a biotechnology company, to study how to use the bacterium as a delivery platform for immune modulators, vaccines, biopharmaceuticals and other drugs. “For people who have asthma and eczema, for example, it might be possible to down-regulate their immune system by simulating a Helicobacter infection,” he said.

He also created the ongoing Noisy Guts Project, which is developing an acoustic belt that records gut noises so that doctors can more efficiently diagnose and monitor gut problems, and patients can save money on tests. “We aim to be able to differentiate between benign issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome, and more serious ones, like inflammatory bowel disease or even cancer,” he said.

Prof Marshall is currently Clinical Professor of Medicine and Microbiology at the University of Western Australia, and Director of its Marshall Centre for Infectious Diseases Research and Training. He also set up Shenzhen University’s Marshall Biomedical Engineering Laboratory, which focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of gastrointestinal cancer, among other goals.

His other awards include the 1994 Warren Alpert Prize, 1995 Albert Lasker Award, 2002 Keio Medical Science Prize and 2003 Australian Centenary Medal.