The Ulcer Prize


A patient suffering from peptic ulcers. A cross-section of the stomach with a view of an ulcer.
Graphic by www.myupchar.com/en via Wikimedia Commons

Doctors win a prize for their dangerous research on stomach ulcers. Liz Waid and Colin Lowther tell their story.

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Transcript


Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Liz Waid.

Voice 2 

And I’m Colin Lowther. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1 

In the summer of 1984, Barry Marshall went to the hospital. He had serious pain in his stomach. And he felt very sick and weak. Eating food hurt him.  But he was not like most people visiting the hospital. He was a research scientist. And he knew exactly what was wrong. He had a stomach ulcer. And he had caused this dangerous condition himself, as part of his research.

Voice 2 

Today’s Spotlight is on Barry Marshall, and his research partner, Robin Warren. In 2005, they won the Nobel Prize for medicine. They won this award for their research on stomach ulcers. By performing a dangerous experiment, they changed the way doctors understand this condition.

Voice 1 

A stomach ulcer is a sore or damaged area on the inside of the stomach or duodenum - the beginning of the small intestine. A person with a stomach ulcer can be in a lot of pain. He may feel sick. He cannot eat well and he becomes weak. Stomach ulcers are a common problem. In the United States nearly one in ten adults suffers with stomach ulcers.

Voice 2 

In the past, experts believed they knew why people got ulcers. The cause was stress or worry. Doctors describe stress as a modern-day health problem. People with stress feel that life is too difficult to manage. Their minds cannot rest. They feel worried about many things.

Voice 1 

The World Health Organisation describes stress as a ‘worldwide epidemic’. It affects many people around the world. Research shows that stress is a cause for many health problems. For example, it can damage the heart. It can cause mental problems. But does it cause stomach ulcers?

Voice 2 

Robin Warren did not think so. He is a research doctor in Australia. In the1980s, he began studying ulcers. He thought there was a physical reason for them. He operated on ulcer victims. He removed small pieces of the damaged part of their stomachs. Then he looked carefully at them under a microscope. He observed that the same small bacteria were present in each of the stomachs of ulcer victims. He published his findings.

Voice 1 

In 1981 Barry Marshall was training to become a doctor. He was working in the same hospital as Robin Warren. When he learned about Warren’s work, he was very interested. One of Marshall’s patients was suffering greatly with stomach problems. He wondered if Warren’s work could help people like that patient. So Marshall began working with Warren.

Voice 2 

They called the bacteria Warren found in the ulcer victim’s stomachs ‘Helicobacter pylori’ or ‘H pylori’. They estimated that the H pylori bacterium is found in the stomachs of about 50% of the world’s population. For most people, it does not cause a problem. But Warren and Marshall thought that in around 15% of cases the bacterium caused ulcers. Warren and Marshall claimed that these people could be cured.

Voice 1 

But doctors could only cure their patients if they changed the treatment of ulcers. Doctors normally told patients to reduce their amount of stress. Then they treated the effects of the ulcer with antacids. This treatment reduces the pain of stomach ulcers. But antacids do not kill the bacteria. They cannot cure the condition. Patients continued to experience many problems from the ulcers. But Warren and Marshall wanted doctors to treat the stomach ulcers using strong antibiotics. They claimed that these drugs would kill the bacteria. The patients would then start to recover. It would be possible to cure patients completely.

Voice 2 

However, the doctors and scientific experts did not believe Warren and Marshall. They continued to believe that stress caused ulcers - not bacteria. So what could Warren and Marshall do? They had published their results. They had shown their evidence to the world’s experts. But still no one believed them. So Warren had a dangerous idea. He decided to infect himself with the bacteria. Warren knew he would become sick. But then people would know that the bacteria caused stomach ulcers. He hoped that his action would persuade the other experts that he was right. He hoped that they would then support his work.

Voice 1 

So Marshall drank a liquid containing the H pylori bacterium. He suffered from stomach pain and sickness. He went to his local hospital. The doctors there performed some tests including an endoscopy. The endoscopy test let the doctors to see the inside of Marshall’s stomach. The doctors could see the damaged areas. They observed the action of the H pylori bacteria. Marshall was quickly developing a stomach ulcer. Marshall’s wife urged him to think of his children and get treatment, which he did. And his antibiotic medicine worked. He had proved that H pylori causes ulcers, and that antibiotics could cure an ulcer.

Voice 2 

Marshall’s experiment shocked the scientific world. Experts now started to accept that Warren and Marshall were correct in their thinking. Today, thanks to their work, many patients with stomach ulcers can be cured. Scientists now say that H pylori causes between 80-90% of ulcers.

Voice 1 

Warren and Marshall were having dinner together when they heard about the Nobel Prize. They were very happy to receive this honour. But they were even more pleased to be able to help people suffering from ulcers. Barry Marshall says that he would do it all again. He told the Nobel Committee,

Voice 3 

‘Somebody had to do it; somebody had to swallow the bacteria and develop an ulcer. It was the only way to persuade the scientific world’.

Voice 2 

These two men had a difficult job making people believe their research. But they continued to speak out. Now their work has changed the way doctors deal with stomach ulcers. Many people with stomach ulcers go on to develop stomach cancer. So the antibiotic treatment now used could also be helping to prevent cancer in these patients. Many people believe the world owes a lot to Robin Warren and Barry Marshall.

Voice 1 

The writer of this program was Elizabeth Lickiss. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United States and the United Kingdom. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight.

Voice 2 

You can visit Spotlight on the Internet. Our address is www.radioenglish.net. There, you can listen to this program again, and read it at the same time. This program is called, ‘The Ulcer Prize’.

Voice 1 

If you have a comment or question about any Spotlight program you can email us at radio at radioenglish dot net. Or you can leave a comment on the script page of the program on our website.

Voice 2 

You can also find Spotlight on Facebook and Twitter - just search for Spotlight Radio. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

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Question:

Have you ever had a stomach ulcer? Have you known someone with this condition?

Comments


Avatar Spotlight
usama
said on March 04, 2020

I have ever never had a stomach ulcer, but I think my wife has some thing like it.

Avatar Spotlight
Honneur
said on March 04, 2020

No, I never had a stomach ulcer nor did I know anyone who suffered from this disease. I am admired for the courage of the two doctors who did this research. I think their option for this extreme decision was because they knew the prejudice and the interests that involved their work. In the end, we find the eternal problem of the human species: money.

Avatar Spotlight
kenhieuloilam
said on March 05, 2020

When we are well, we are a happy person. When we are sick, we know difficulties of a sick person. We stay healthy. We treat our sickness. When we live our lives well, we are a happy person. When we have problems, we need to solve our problems well. Life has favourablenesses and difficulties. We solve problems of life together. When we are well, we are a happy person. When we are sick, we know difficulties of a sick person. Life of each of us has favourablenesses and difficulties. We make life beautiful together.