Monday, August 24, 2009

Evidence: Enough To Give You An Ulcer

A. Stone Freedberg died last week. His story is a sobering reminder that evidence-based medicine advances only by hard work and good luck, by fits and starts, past deep chasms and long cul-de-sacs. Were history any kinder, and clinical research any fairer, Freedberg surely would have won the Nobel Prize for discovering that the bacterium Helicobacter pylori causes peptic ulcers. He made his discovery in the 1940s. A pair of Australians, Marshall and Warren, didn't confirm Freedberg's findings until the 1980s and nabbed the prize in 2005. (To add irony to insult, Alfred Nobel himself died of a duodenal ulcer some 110 years earlier.) Doctors today diagnose H. pylori infection with a breath test and treat ulcers with antibiotics instead of milk and stress management.

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