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Tuesday, December 06, 2005 

...what if?...

I mentioned in October that ulcer researchers Barry Marshall and Robin Warren won this year's Nobel Prize in medicine for their research showing that Helicobacter was a cause of gastric ulcers. However, Marshall and Warren weren't the first to come up with that idea; indeed, there were earlier reports suggesting a connection. Antecdotal evidence from several hospitals suggested that ulcer sufferers improved when prescribed antibiotics, and a curved bacterium had even been seen in the stomachs of Boston ulcer patients back in the 1940s. Reports of this bacterium date back to even earlier in the century, but none were conclusively followed up. Indeed, the doctor who made the observation in Boston, A. Stone Freedberg, was discouraged from pursuing that line of research. Now, a half-century later, he will award the Nobel prize to the researchers who were able to do what he could not: grow Helicobacter pylori, and show that it was a cause of gastric ulcers. Today's New York Times discusses more of the story, a tale not only of "what ifs" but also of the role chance plays in science--even science good enough to win a Nobel.


About me

  • I'm Tara C. Smith
  • From Iowa, United States
  • I'm a mom and a scientist, your basic stressed-out, wanna-have-it-all-and-do-it-all Gen Xer. Recently transplanted from Ohio to Iowa, I've spent most of my life in the midwest (with 4 years of college spent out east in "soda" territory). My main interest, and the subject of my research, is infectious disease: how does the microbe cause illness? What makes one strain nasty, and another "avirulent?" Are the latter really not causing any disease, or could some of those be possible for the development of chronic disease years down the road? Additionally, I've spent a lot of time discussing the value of teaching evolution, and educating others about "intelligent design" and other forms of creationism. My interest in history of science and medicine is also useful as a way to tie all of the above interests together. [Disclaimer: the views here are solely my own, and do not represent my employer, my spouse, that guy who's always sitting by the fountain when I come into work, or anyone else with whom I may be remotely affiliated.]
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