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Heroes of Science – Episode 16

I would say the unsung hero is Dr Lykoudis and it makes all of us, perhaps, keep our eyes open for quirky discoveries.

You might say, ‘Well, if Helicobacter has infected nearly all humans for the past hundred thousand years there were probably other people who discovered that, or almost discovered that, helicobacter caused ulcers’, and one of the great unsung heroes in that story is a Dr Lykoudis.  And he had an ulcer, he was in Athens, and in the early 1960s he had an ulcer, he was a GP, and for some reason he took bunch of antibiotics, and he was cured.  So he got the idea that there was a bacteria of some sort that was causing ulcers.

And so he then got a very popular practice, and he made a special antibiotic brew he was giving to hundreds of people in Athens.  He became incredibly popular but nobody believed it because this stress idea of ulcers was so prevalent.  He was deregistered by the Athens medical board, he had his patent and his paper, his publication, in the AMA, in the United States was rejected and eventually he died, but he still had a lot of fans.  So I would say the unsung hero is Dr Lykoudis and it makes all of us, perhaps, keep our eyes open for quirky discoveries that don’t really fit the paradigm, because that is where the new discoveries are going to come from, the new technologies.  And it might be somebody who’s researching, let me think of something out of the air, baldness!  You know, it might be an engineer who suddenly notices something going on in his lab which allows him to develop a technology that affects hair follicles, for example.  So I would say the government and the funding sources always need to focus on curiosity-driven research.  And I say to the students and the PhDs and everybody, ‘If you like to do it and it’s interesting and it’s generating data: go ahead!’  That’s enough reason to do the research.  And so my approach in the H. Pylori Research Lab, I just find some brainy people, stick ‘em down there, teach them about helicobacter and I say, ’As long as you put the word helicobacter somewhere in your research paper, that’s good enough for me!’  As long as it’s interesting.