We all have had gastritis at some point or the other. During wedding or festival season when we tend to hog on spicy, oily food. During exams or in times of personal difficulty too. Most commonly we pop in a pill or drink a glass of ENO and the symptoms just disappear. But what if they don’t? What do you do then? You visit you doctor who probably asks you to undergo an endoscopy. But why? Read on……
Barry Marshall was an Australian physician born on 30thSeptember 1951 in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia. Being interested in both math and science, he chose medicine because in his words “I chose medical school as an alternative which was at least interesting, and which did not require daily exposure to calculus.” Thats the story of most doctors.
He was very interested in the study of stomach ulcers. He had for years observed ulcer patients who fell so ill, that they either had to have surgeries to remove some part their stomachs or died due to bleeding. He was not satisfied when physicians told patients “You must be under a lot of stress. That’s the reason you have stomach ulcers”. Some of the patients were actually sent to psychiatrists because they thought that the problem was in the mind of the patient.
In 1979, Marshall was appointed as the Registrar in the department of Medicine at the Royal Perth Hospital. It was here that he met Robin Warren, a pathologist who was investigating the causes of gastritis. He was the first one to report the presence of H. Pylori, a bacterium, in the human gut. Together they believed that this wasthebacteria that was responsible for gastritis and the subsequent gastric ulcers. However, the medical community at the time ridiculed them because as we all know, our stomachs contain acid, and everyone believed that no bacteria can survive in the acidic environment of the stomach.
Marshall later said “Everyone was against me, but I knew I was right”
Marshall was not the one to be discouraged. In 1982 both Warren and he got funding for a one-year research on the subject. They began their research in all earnest. But to their utter dismay, the first 30 samples of the sections of stomach did not show the presence of the bacteria H.Pylori i.e. their hypothesis was proving to be wrong. No bacteria in the stomach meant that, it was not responsible for the ulcers. Just when they were beginning to have doubts about their thesis, they discovered that the lab technicians had been throwing out the samples within 2 days. It was only when the 31stsample wasn’t thrown on the 2ndday because the lab technicians were busy and had forgotten to do the same. It stayed in the lab from Thursday to Monday. In this sample they managed to isolate the H.Pylori bacterium for the first time. It turns out that H.pylori requires more than 2 days to grow.
In 1983 they submitted their findings to the Gastroenterological society of Australia, but the reviewers turned their paper down.
Till that time Marshall was experimenting on piglets. He decided to ditch this idea and realized that the only way to prove his theory was to experiment on himself. So, he underwent an endoscopy to prove that he did not suffer from any ulcers. He took some H.Pylori from the gut of an infected patient and then drank a broth containing cultured H.Pylori. He expected to develop ulcer a year later. But to his surprise within 3 days he developed vague nausea and foul smelling breath (there was no acid to kill the bacteria and their waste products produced the bad breath) After 5-8 days he developed vomiting. After 2 weeks he underwent a repeat endoscopy which showed massive inflammation of his stomach and biopsy taken revealed the presence of H.Pylori.
Thanks to Barry Marshalls perseverance today the standard care for stomach ulcer is antibiotic which has reduced the number of stomach ulcers which has in turn reduced the incidence of stomach cancers.
FACTS ABOUT HELICOBACTER PYLORI
- It is a bacterium usually found in the stomach
- It causes gastritis which causes abdominal pain and nausea.
- It has been associated with stomach cancers.
- To avoid being destroyed by the acid in the stomach, the H.Pylori burrows deep in the mucosa of the stomach.
- It is usually treated with a regimen called the triple therapy containing 2 antibiotics and a proton pump inhibitor