Helicobacter pylori is, by bacteriological standards, a relative newcomer to medicine. Although its pathogenesis has been studied for only about the past 20 years, there are reports from as far back as the late 19th century of small, helical bacteria in the stomachs of some patients. Largely these anecdotal reports were relegated to the “hmm, interesting” file and not followed up for many years. It wasn’t necessarily that others didn’t follow (or care about) the research; the lack of studies on them, despite occasional reports in the literature, is probably due more to the fact that we hadn’t figured out yet how to culture them outside of the body. Prior to the era of molecular biology, this made studies of bacteria such as Helicobacter difficult, if not impossible.
However, studies began in the late 1970s by Robin Warren and Barry Marshall led initially to the culture of Helicobacter pylori (previously designated Vibrio rugula and Campylobacter pylori) from human stomachs–and a quarter-century later, a Nobel prize for their discovery and subsequent work showing the relationship between Helicobacter pylori and gastritis and gastric ulcer disease. The bacterium has also been shown to play a role in the development of several types of gastric cancers.
Additionally, Helicobacter research has extended far beyond the stomach, providing clues about the development of other diseases and even human migration. I’ll write more about these topics later this week, highlighting two new papers featuring this fascinating gastric bacterium.
Image from http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d6/EMpylori.jpg