Ulcers Give Scientists Nobel Prize in Medicine

2 Australian Scientists Snag the Prize for Stomach Ulcer Research

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on October 03, 2005
From the WebMD Archives

Oct. 3, 2005 -- The 2005 Nobel Prize in medicine has been awarded to two Australian scientists for their research on ulcers in the early 1980s.

Barry J. Marshall and J. Robin Warren will share the award. Their discovery paved the way for treating ulcers with antibiotics.

Warren is a former pathologist at the Royal Perth Hospital in Perth, Australia. Marshall is a senior principal research fellow at the University of Western Australia.

Breakthrough Discovery

In 1982, Warren and Marshall found a type of bacteria -- called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) -- that causes most peptic ulcers. Before their discovery, ulcers were largely blamed on stress and lifestyle.

The finding paved the way for treating ulcers with antibiotics. It has also "led to an increased understanding of the connection between chronic infection, inflammation, and cancer," according to a Nobel Prize news release.

The H. pylori bacterium is only found in humans. Many people have the bacterium, but it doesn't always cause ulcers.

Prize Winners Excited, Overcome

Warren and Marshall celebrated their Nobel Prize with family in Perth, Australia, sipping champagne and beer, according to the Associated Press.

"Obviously, it's the best thing that can ever happen to somebody in medical research. It's just incredible," Marshall told the AP by phone.

Warren told the AP that he was "very excited [and] also a little overcome" by the honor.

About Ulcers

Here are some facts about the ulcer-causing bacteria:

  • About half of all people have the H. pylori bacterium in their stomachs.
  • Infection is more common in developing countries.
  • Only about 10% to 15% of infected people eventually develop ulcers.
  • Infection typically occurs in early childhood, often passing from mother to child.
  • The bacterium may stay in the stomach throughout a person's life.
  • Antibiotics can treat the bacterium.
  • To avoid antibiotic resistance, H. pylori is usually treated only in people with ulcers.

About the Nobel Peace Prize

The Nobel Prize for medicine includes a check for $1.3 million, a diploma, and a gold medal. Warren and Marshall will split the prize.

Sweden's King Carl XVI Gustaf is scheduled to award the prize in Stockholm, Sweden, on Dec. 10. That's the anniversary of the death of Alfred Nobel, the prize's namesake.

The first Nobel Prize in medicine was awarded in 1901.