Barry J. Marshall Biography

Scientist, Doctor(1951–)
Dr. Barry J. Marshall's discovery that stomach ulcers can result from bacteria, and can be cured by antibiotics, led to his winning the 2005 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Synopsis

Dr. Barry J. Marshall was born in Kalgoorlie, Australia, on September 30, 1951. While training in medicine, he joined pathologist J. Robin Warren to investigate a stomach bacteria. The bacteria, Helicobacter pylori, was found to cause ulcers and gastritis, diseases that Marshall then learned could be cured by antibiotics. Marshall and Warren shared the 2005 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their work.

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Early Life

Barry James Marshall was born on September 30, 1951, in Kalgoorlie, West Australia, Australia. Growing up, he was interested in science. Believing that he didn't have the math skills to become an engineer, he instead opted for a career in medicine.

Research and Discovery

In 1981, while Marshall was training in internal medicine, he learned that a pathologist, J. Robin Warren, had found bacteria in stomach biopsies. At the time, it was believed that bacteria could not survive in the acidic stomach environment. The two joined forces to learn more.

Marshall and Warren soon discovered that many gastritis and stomach ulcer patients had the spiral bacteria, which would eventually be named Helicobacter pylori. Postulating that H. pylori was disease-causing, Marshall realized that antibiotics could replace the current treatments for ulcers.

Human Guinea Pig

The scientific community, believing that ulcers resulted from stress or diet, countered that the presence of H. pylori did not prove that the bacteria led to ulcers. Marshall felt that more evidence was needed. Research with lab animals was not feasible, so he decided to use a human subject: himself.

At the age of 32, after verifying that he did not already harbor H. pylori in his stomach, Marshall drank a concoction made from cultured bacteria. In a few days, he came down with gastritis; examinations of his inflamed stomach revealed H. pylori. Taking antibiotics cured him.

In light of this evidence, ulcer treatment protocols slowly began to change. In 1994, the National Institutes of Health stated that antibiotics should be the standard approach. Instead of taking antacids for the rest of their lives or, in desperate cases, having to undergo surgery, patients were cured of their ulcers.

Awards and Future Projects

Marshall and Warren received many accolades for their work, including a Warren Alpert Prize and an Australian Medical Association Award. In 2005, the pair was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Marshall was also honored in 2007 by being named a Companion of the Order of Australia, the highest civic honor in the country.

In addition to academic posts, Marshall founded and serves as the scientific director for Ondek, a biotechnology company. The firm looks for ways to use modified H. pylori bacteria to deliver drugs, vaccines and other treatments.

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