If winning a Nobel Prize meant swallowing a glassful of dangerous bacteria, not many will come forward. Australian professor Barry Marshall however did just that. He swallowed a cocktail of bacteria to prove that stomach ulcers are bacterial in origin rather than stress or lifestyle-related.
And his bacteria swallowing has proved very useful as his colleague Robin Warren and he were chosen as the Nobel laureates for Medicine in the current year. ''I didn't think about it very much and probably I wouldn't have done it if I had really thought it through,'' Marshall wryly recalled. The Australian scientists who deserved the prize for the courage displayed by them proved in 1982 that Helicobacter pylori bacterium was the main culprit behind the formation of ulcers. The prevailing view then was that these ulcers were caused by stress or due to high intake of Aspirin. Both these scientists from the Land of Oz refused to subscribe to this theory and set out to prove that ulcers are indeed bacterial in origin. Their discovery has helped millions of ulcer sufferers by turning around the focus of the treatment of ulcers to antibiotics and related drugs. ''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,'' said Dr Marshall of his bacteria-swallowing incident. With a few days he was doubled over in pain and that helped him understand the agony that ulcer sufferers go through.
The Nobel Prize will be officially handed over in Stockholm in December. The Prize carries a $1.3 million purse, a gold medal and a face-to-face meeting with the Swedish royal family.
Peptic ulcers have been the bane of millions of people all over the world since times immemorial. Basically an ulcer is the wearing away of the lining of the stomach due to excess secretion of acid. And this was the main reason why other scientists refused to accept a bacterial origin theory for the ulcers since it was felt that bacteria could never survive in acidic environment. The fact that these two brave scientists had the courage to prove people wrong by becoming human 'guinea pigs' is indeed praiseworthy and laudable.