Barry James Marshall, AC, FRACP, FRS, FAA, DSc (born 30 September 1951) is an Australian physician, Nobel Prize laureate in Physiology or Medicine, and Professor of Clinical Microbiology at the University of Western Australia. Marshall and Robin Warren showed that the bacterium Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) is the cause of most peptic ulcers, reversing decades of medical doctrine holding that ulcers were caused by stress, spicy foods, and too much acid. This discovery has allowed for a breakthrough in understanding a causative link between Helicobacter pylori infection and stomach cancer.
Marshall was born in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia and lived in Kalgoorlie and Carnarvon until moving to Perth at the age of eight. His father held various jobs, and his mother was a nurse. He is the eldest of four siblings. He attended Newman College and the University of Western Australia, where he received a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery in 1975. He married his wife Adrienne in 1972 and has four children.
In 1979, Marshall was appointed as a Registrar in Medicine at the Royal Perth Hospital. He met Robin Warren, a pathologist interested in gastritis, during internal medicine fellowship training at Royal Perth Hospital in 1981. Together, the pair studied the presence of spiral bacteria in association with gastritis. In 1982, they performed the initial culture of H. pylori and developed their hypothesis related to the bacterial cause of peptic ulcer and gastric cancer. It has been claimed that the H. pylori theory was ridiculed by the establishment scientists and doctors, who did not believe that any bacteria could live in the acidic environment of the stomach. Marshall has been quoted as saying in 1998 that "(e)veryone was against me, but I knew I was right." On the other hand, it has also been argued that medical researchers showed a proper degree of scientific skepticism until the H. pylori hypothesis could be supported by evidence.
After failed attempts to infect piglets in 1984, Marshall, after having a baseline endoscopy done, drank a Petri dish containing cultured H. pylori, expecting to develop, perhaps years later, an ulcer. He was surprised when, only three days later, he developed vague nausea and halitosis, (due to the achlorhydria, there was no acid to kill bacteria in the stomach, and their waste products manifested as bad breath), noticed only by his mother. On days 5–8, he developed achlorydric (no acid) vomiting. On day eight, he had a repeat endoscopy and biopsy, which showed massive inflammation (gastritis), and H. pylori was cultured. On the fourteenth day after ingestion, a third endoscopy was done, and Marshall began to take antibiotics. This story is related by Barry Marshall himself in his Nobel acceptance lecture Dec. 8, 2005, available for viewing on the Nobel website. Interestingly, Marshall did not develop antibodies to H. pylori, suggesting that innate immunity can sometimes eradicate acute H. pylori infection. Marshall's illness and recovery, based on a culture of organisms extracted from a patient, fulfilled Koch's postulates for H. pylori and gastritis, but not for peptic ulcer. This experiment was published in 1985 in the Medical Journal of Australia, and is among the most cited articles from the journal.
After his work at Fremantle Hospital, Marshall did research at Royal Perth Hospital (1985–86) and at the University of Virginia, USA (1986–Present), before returning to Australia while remaining on the faculty of the University of Virginia. He held a Burnet Fellowship at the University of Western Australia (UWA) from 1998-2003. Marshall continues research related to H. pylori and runs the H. pylori Research Laboratory at UWA.
In 2007, Marshall accepted a part-time appointment at the Pennsylvania State University.
In 2005, the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to Marshall and Robin Warren, his long-time collaborator, "for their discovery of the bacterium Helicobacter pylori and its role in gastritis and peptic ulcer disease".
Marshall also received the Warren Alpert Prize in 1994; the Australian Medical Association Award and the Albert Lasker Award for Clinical Medical Research in 1995; the Gairdner Foundation International Award in 1996; the Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize in 1997; the Dr A.H. Heineken Prize for Medicine, the Florey Medal, and the Buchanan Medal of the Royal Society in 1998; the Benjamin Franklin Medal for Life Sciences in 1999; the Keio Medical Science Prize in 2002; and the Australian Centenary Medal in 2003.
Marshall was appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia in 2007. He was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science degree by the University of Oxford in 2009.
In the 2011 movie Contagion, the scientific researcher Ally Hextall (played by Jennifer Ehle) injects herself with a trial serum in an attempt to speed up the process of creating a vaccine. She speaks to her father, a doctor, about it, citing Barry Marshall as her inspiration.
In the Eating Episode of the "E" series of QI, Barry Marshall is mentioned as part of the answer to one of the questions. The question was "What Causes Stomach Ulcers?" After a short period of jokes about this, Steven Fry reveals the answer and says "and he downed it for a bet.", to which Jimmy Carr replies "Downed it for a bet. That definately sounds like Aussie Doctors."