Barry J. Marshall is most notable
for his discovery that Helicobacter
pylori (previously Campylobacter
pylori) is associated with peptic ulcer disease and gastric cancer, which
earned himself and Robin Warren a Nobel Prize in 2005.
Marshall was born in 1951, to
teenage parents in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia. He was the oldest of four and
did exceptionally well in school when he wasn’t busy reading his parents’ engineering
and medical textbooks at home. At the University of Western Australia, he met
his wife Adrienne, whom he married in 1972 and later had 4 children with. In
1975, Marshall graduated with his Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery and he began
to perform internships and residencies at the Queen Elizabeth Medical Centre.
He was more interested in combining academic research with clinical medicine.
By 1979, Marshall moved on to train to become an open-heart surgeon but by
1981, he rotated to the gastroenterology division where he met Robin Warren. When
Marshall was referred to Warren, he found that he created a list of patients
with curved bacteria that were present on their stomach biopsies. Marshall
helped while he could, but he was later rotated to another division about 6
months later since he was finishing his physician studies.
listening to Adrian Lee et al. present their advancements in the work of H. pylori years later, Marshall began to rekindle his
interest in campylobacter bacteria he and his old colleagues used to work on. Research
on H. pylori exploded, and Marshall began
to perform his own research, but he was unable to infect an animal model to
study. Other researchers began to doubt and criticize Marshall’s work because
the bacteria were either “contaminated” or completely “harmless”.
Coincidentally, Marshall was
working with patients that needed surgery after suffering with potentially terminal,
chronic ulcer disease and he found that many patients would no longer need
surgery once they were prescribed antibiotics and bismuth for two weeks.
Marshall then made the hypothesis that the H.
pylori bacteria were responsible for the peptic ulcers as well as an
increased risk of stomach cancer. He realized that if his hypothesis was
correct, then treatment for ulcer disease would become simple and cheap.
After much frustration and no luck with
an animal model, Marshall took drastic measures and infected himself with the
bacteria. Despite the severe reaction to infection, Marshall continued the experiment
until he had complete biopsy results to prove that there was colonization of H. pylori and that there was damage to
his stomach as a result. He documented his experience and published “Attempt to
fulfill Koch’s postulates for pyloric campylobacter” which recounts every
detail, sample and conclusion he came to. Marshall shared his results with
Warren and they began to discuss the matter more thoroughly and apply it
clinically to patients in need.
According to an interview in April
2017, Marshall is the director for the Marshall Centre for Infectious Disease
Research and training at the University of Western Australia. He continues to
influence microbiologists to this day and even has a twitter where he keeps up
to date with all things science! (@barjammar)