First Nobel prize!
Marshall wins award for discovering link between ulcers and bacteria
The University is celebrating. Dr. Barry J. Marshall, who holds joint faculty appointments at the School of Medicine and the University of Western Australia, has won the 2005 Nobel Prize in medicine.
Marshall is the first current member of U.Va.’s faculty to receive the prize. He shares it with pathologist J. Robin Warren, who collaborated with him to discover the connection between Helicobacter pylori bacterium and peptic ulcers and gastric cancers in Australia in the early 1980s.
Marshall then spent a decade (1986-1996) at U.Va. as a research fellow, gastroenterologist and professor of medicine.
“We congratulate Dr. Marshall for winning the Nobel Prize in medicine,” said Dr. Arthur Garson Jr., vice president and dean of the medical school. “His work highlights the spirit of innovative and critical thinking that the School of Medicine fosters.”
“It is a great thrill to be recognized in this way, and it is fitting that a lot of the credit for the dissemination of the new discovery goes to faculty at U.Va.,” Marshall said. “In Charlottesville I was able to develop important diagnostic tests which were needed … to implement the new discoveries.”
Since he returned to Australia, Marshall has remained on U.Va.’s faculty as a professor of research and internal medicine.
“While he was at U.Va., Marshall worked to strengthen the evidence that H. Pylori is the cause of peptic ulcers and gastric cancer and other health conditions,” said Dr. Robert Carey, David A. Harrison III Distinguished Professor of Medicine and University Professor, who was dean of the medical school during Marshall’s tenure. “He had only a theory when he came here, but when he left, his findings were well accepted.”
Carey said Marshall told him in a recent conversation that he would accept the Nobel Prize on behalf of the University of Virginia and the University of Western Australia.
Marshall’s research was revolutionary, in that it changed the understanding of ulcers and gastrointestinal diseases, according to Dr. David Peura, U.Va. professor of medicine and president of the American Gastroenterological Association.
“His work was unprecedented, especially since he was a clinician and not a researcher,” Peura said. “I was treating my patients with the then-traditional methods for ulcers when his work was first published, and I truly did not believe it until I saw what it did for my patients.”
Peura joined the U.Va. faculty in 1990, because of his desire to work with Marshall.
“His perseverance was astounding. Most people would have abandoned their work in the face of the opposition and dismissal that he originally received,” Peura said.
The Nobel Prize for medicine is awarded by the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm as stated in the will of Alfred Nobel, a Swedish industrialist who founded the prestigious awards in 1895.
CLINICAL STUDY COORDINATOR RECALLS WORK OF U.VA.'S H. PYLORI UNIT
When Dr. Barry Marshall came to U.Va. in 1986, he had already had his ‘eureka’ moment of discovering that peptic ulcers are caused by H. pylori bacteria, but he needed the next 10 years at U.Va. to formulate a highly effective antibiotic treatment for ulcers and to perfect diagnostic tests for the bacteria. The research that accomplished those goals and finally proved Marshall’s theory to the rest of the medical community was done by a five-member group at U.Va. known informally as the H. Pylori Unit, headed by Clinical Study Coordinator Susie Hoffman, under Marshall’s supervision.
Hoffman, who now directs U.Va.’s Human Investigation Committee, remembered that Marshall endured a lot of ridicule for pursuing his idea, but his passion for his work kept pushing him forward. “He had so much enthusiasm that it was contagious,” Hoffman said.
Discovering what combinations of antibiotics would most effectively treat peptic ulcers was an arduous challenge. As Hoffman recalled, “We started out with combinations of antibiotics that were getting 30 percent cure rates. After a lot of hard work, 10 years later we were up to 75 to 80 percent cure rates.”
During those 10 years people came to U.Va. from all over the world to be treated by Marshall, many having suffered the pain of ulcers for years. Hoffman witnessed patient after patient receive just two or three weeks of antibiotics and then feel so much better. “It was very amazing to watch,” she said.
“The Nobel Prize in Medicine couldn’t have gone to a better person,” Hoffman added. “Barry Marshall put his whole life into this research. I’m ecstatic to see his hard work and dedication receive such prestigious recognition.”
Hoffman and other members of U.Va.’s H. Pylori Unit look forward to traveling to Stockholm, Sweden, in December to watch their friend and colleague receive the Nobel Prize.