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The Plague of Medical Research

There is nothing conclusive in this report, but it is nevertheless sad and remarkable: Malcolm Casadaban, a University of Chicago medical researcher working on a better vaccine for the plague (Yersinia pestis), has died at the age of 60 and was found to have Yersinia pestis in his bloodstream. The case calls to mind the amazing story of Barry Marshall, the Australian gastroenterologist who, in seeking to prove that the bacteria Helicobacter pylori (and not stress) causes ulcers, himself swallowed some H. pylori to see if he was right — and promptly developed ulcer-like symptoms. That story, however, had a happy ending, with Marshall winning a Nobel Prize. (Nor is there any evidence that Casadaban intentionally ingested the bacteria.) You may recall that Seth Roberts also sees self-experimentation as a viable scientific route.