In the latest installment of his regular column for the Daily Mail, Dr Michael Mosley offers a fascinating insight into how two doctors discovered a cheaper, more effective way of treating stomach ulcers – but found it took winning a Nobel Prize for their research before it was taken seriously by many of their peers.
Dr Mosley recounts how, back in the mid Eighties, Dr Barry Marshall and Dr Robin Warren, from Australia, struggled to convince the medical profession that antibiotics could quickly and inexpensively treat stomach or duodenal ulcers.
Patients enduring the painful gut ulcers would be prescribed expensive drugs such as ranitidine which ensured the stomach no longer produced the acid that was causing the ulcers. When patients stopped taking the drugs, surgery was the next viable option.
However, Dr Marshall and Dr Warren, through their research, discovered that a bacterium called Helicobacter pylori was present in most people presenting with a stomach ulcer. The bacterium was resistant to the excess acid being produced by the gut to try and kill it.
The doctors discovered that Helicobacter wasn’t resistant to antibiotics and after Dr Marshall turned volunteer and ingested the bacterium, he successfully treated it with a short course of antibiotics.
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Dr Mosley muses that what was almost more surprising than the results of their research was the way it was generally resisted by the medical world.
It was only when the duo won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2004 that using antibiotics to treat ulcers of this kind became commonplace, as it still is.
He notes the parallels with the way Type 2 Diabetes is currently treated, mostly with prescribed medication, which often come with side-effects.
Dr Mosley says: “So how long before there’s widespread acceptance that most cases of type 2 diabetes can be put into remission by a rapid weight-loss diet?
“It is beginning to happen, but I wouldn’t guarantee that NHS Choices will be telling you the good news any time soon.”