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The Dr. Who Drank Infectious Broth, Gave Himself an Ulcer, and Solved a Medical Mystery. One of my favorite Nobel prize winner-stories of all time…

Unable to make his case in studies with lab mice (because H. pylori affects only primates) and prohibited from experimenting on people, Marshall grew desperate. Finally he ran an experiment on the only human patient he could ethically recruit: himself. He took some H. pylori from the gut of an ailing patient, stirred it into a broth, and drank it. As the days passed, he developed gastritis, the precursor to an ulcer: He started vomiting, his breath began to stink, and he felt sick and exhausted. Back in the lab, he biopsied his own gut, culturing H. pylori and proving unequivocally that bacteria were the underlying cause of ulcers.

…For their work on H. pylori, Marshall and Warren shared a 2005 Nobel Prize. Today the standard of care for an ulcer is treatment with an antibiotic. And stomach cancer—once one of the most common forms of malignancy—is almost gone from the Western world.

Great interview.

Phillip Torrone

Editor at large – Make magazine. Creative director – Adafruit Industries, contributing editor – Popular Science. Previously: Founded – Hack-a-Day, how-to editor – Engadget, Director of product development – Fallon Worldwide, Technology Director – Braincraft.


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Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    I thought this was an article about “Dr. Who”….misleading. :)

  2. johngineer says:

    I first heard about this on Stephen Fry’s QI panel show. The story never gets old. Dr. Marshall is a hero and a total science badass.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Hard F***in’ Core!

  4. Alex says:

    They are actually fairly well known in Australia. We don’t have too many Nobel winners, and nothing summarises the Aussie spirit like drinking something that came from your sick patient’s stomach…

    1. Actually, Australia has a disproportionately large number of Nobel winners. So, many, in fact, the when first year medical students at University of Queensland are broken into teams for various exercises, the teams are all named after a different Australian Nobel prize winner.

      1. Alex says:

        Actually I guess that’s true, when I looked through the list (after posting my comment) there was more than I knew about. More learning required!

  5. T-bo Deinker says:

    What a great story of a true medical hero, a scientist of great dedication, and a man who steadfastly carried on in the face of massive disapproval…medical pioneers move over to make a place for him!…Nobel, yes, damn it, yes…let the establishment be disestablished….where were the drug companies? where were the gastroenterologists? How could the doctor with data be invalidated by the system?
    The governing bodies take the recommendations of expert representatives of drug companies? Follow the money…just follow the money and you see how it works. Wow, a delivery system for what may eventually cure malaria is incredible… and probably a delivery system for pretty much every other insoluble disease is doomed to the same resistance because it makes no money for the vested interests…oh well, I say, oh well, that’s just how it is…

  6. Perhaps it’s a measure of the anti-intellectualism of our culture that in popular movies, the scientist who experiments on himself always turns into a hideous monster who goes on a murderous rampage. We as a society really need to reflect on the message about science that we’re sending to our kids, because the reality is a scientific hero benefits our lives far more than some guy in tights and a cape.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I love this story, and I’ve told it to people many times as an example of bucking the status quo. Just because something has a traditionally accepted explanation doesn’t always make it true. Physicians followed Galen’s examples for centuries, killing many people in the process.

  8. Alan says:

    While certainly an important discovery, and a somewhat unusual experiment for its time, the idea of experimenting on oneself wasn’t new at all. In fact, it was the way medical science was commonly done until pretty recently. For example, we now know that feline hookworms cause a common tropical skin disease called larva migrans. The reason we know that is that my grandfather inoculated his own arm with them to prove it. After making that point, he was then able to demonstrate that he’d developed genuinely effective treatments for it. Fortunately.

  9. undeded says:

    I’m sure the makers of Mylanta weren’t too happy. I’ll bet billions were made selling the antacid which only partially relieved the symptoms but kept the customers coming back for years sometimes. Like a lot of meds now. It’s more profitable to not cure the illness but keep it chronic treating symptoms.
    I owe a lot to this man. About 11 yrs ago a doctor was going to prescribe Mylanta for my heart burn. I had read news about H Pilori and asked the doc to test me for that. She did showing h pilori. She treated me with antibiotics and cured it. Thanks Dr. Marshall.

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