In 2005 Barry J. Marshall and J. Robin Warren were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in recognition of their 1982 discovery that a bacterium, Helicobacter pylori, causes one of the most common and important diseases of mankind, peptic ulcer disease.
Barry Marshall met Robin Warren, a pathologist interested in gastritis, during internal medicine fellowship training at Royal Perth Hospital in 1981. The pair studied the presence of spiral bacteria in association with gastritis. The following year (1982), Helicobacter pylori was cultured for the first time and they developed their hypothesis related to the bacterial cause of peptic ulcer and gastric cancer.
In 1984, while at Fremantle Hospital, Marshall proved that the new germ was harmful in a well-publicised self-administered experiment, in which he drank a culture of H.pylori. Persevering despite widespread skepticism, Marshall also came up with combinations of drugs that killed the H.pylori bacteria and eliminated ulcers permanently.
The hypothesis that H.pylori is a causative factor of stomach cancer was accepted in 1994 by the World Health Organisation. This work has now been acknowledged as the most significant discovery in the history of gastroenterology and is compared to the development of the polio vaccine and the eradication of smallpox.
Affecting 50% of the global population, H.pylori is recognised as the most common chronic infection in the world. “Like a trail of crumbs, the DNA of our Helicobacter pylori can show where we were born and where our ancestors traveled from over the past 60,000 years” says Marshall.
In 2008 Professor Marshall was elected into the prestigious US National Academy of Science, an institution that was established in 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln. This recognition further establishes Barry’s international scientific credentials.
Barry was born in Kalgoorlie in 1951 and attended Marist Brothers College in Perth from 1960-68. He completed his undergraduate medical degree at The University of Western Australia in 1974. He is married with four children and four grandchildren and lives in Subiaco, Western Australia.