Friday, October 07, 2005

An act of conviction

In a rather dramatic act, the gentleman in his fifties picked up the potion and gulped it down !!!. (The act was very similar in many ways to the one performed by Socrates millenniums back) The potion contained a concoction of Bacteria which many of his peers believed could not survive the digestive acids in his stomach. Most of them also believed that they are not going to do any harm to his digestive system. In such a case this was neither an act of courage nor had any associated risk.

But the gentleman knew better. He knew that the Bacteria would survive; especially the Helicobacter pylori. He knew he was going to be sick…terribly sick. But he had to do it…to convince others…the doubting Thomases of the world who questioned scientific evidence collected painstakingly over a long period of time. He had a point to prove!!!

The gentleman succeeded…He fell ill…very very ill…

Barry J. Marshall who was driven to perform this act has won Nobel Prize for medicine this year along with his colleague J Robbin Warren.

To paraphrase the Press Release by The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet dated 3rd October 2005..

Robin Warren (born 1937), a pathologist from Perth, Australia, observed small curved bacteria colonizing the lower part of the stomach (antrum) in about 50% of patients from which biopsies had been taken. He made the crucial observation that signs of inflammation were always present in the gastric mucosa close to where the bacteria were seen.

Barry Marshall (born 1951), a young clinical fellow, became interested in Warren's findings and together they initiated a study of biopsies from 100 patients. After several attempts, Marshall succeeded in cultivating a hitherto unknown bacterial species (later denoted Helicobacter pylori) from several of these biopsies. Together they found that the organism was present in almost all patients with gastric inflammation, duodenal ulcer or gastric ulcer. Based on these results, they proposed that Helicobacter pylori is involved in the aetiology of these diseases.

Even though peptic ulcers could be healed by inhibiting gastric acid production, they frequently relapsed, since bacteria and chronic inflammation of the stomach remained. In treatment studies, Marshall and Warren as well as others showed that patients could be cured from their peptic ulcer disease only when the bacteria were eradicated from the stomach. Thanks to the pioneering discovery by Marshall and Warren, peptic ulcer disease is no longer a chronic, frequently disabling condition, but a disease that can be cured by a short regimen of antibiotics and acid secretion inhibitors.

It was to prove this Bacterial connection to the skeptic world that Marshall resorted to the heroic act mentioned in the beginning…

Now you must be wondering why I am talking at length on this particular incident!

I think what Marshall showed through his action was his confidence and conviction with respect to his work. That is probably what makes him great…great much beyond his Nobel Prize!

How many of us can say the same about ourselves and our areas of work???


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