Scientist Ian Frazer to trial skin cancer vaccine
THE pioneering Australian scientist who discovered the cure for cervical cancer is on the verge of creating the world's first vaccine for skin cancer.
Professor Ian Frazer, former Australian of the Year, has revealed the vaccine could be ready within the next five to 10 years. As with the jab now given to millions of young girls each year to prevent cervical cancer, children aged between 10 and 12 would be given the vaccine to prevent skin cancer later in life, Professor Frazer envisages.
Testing on animals has shown the vaccine to be successful and human trials will start next year. Australia has the world's highest rate of skin cancer with more than 380,000 people diagnosed with the disease and 1600 dying from it each year.
Professor Frazer will reveal this ground-breaking skin work at the Australian Health and Medical Research Congress to be held in Brisbane tomorrow.
He said it would be rewarding to develop a vaccine for a cancer that was so prevalent in Australia with its hot climate. "It's an important challenge with a very major health benefit if it works," Professor Frazer told The Sunday Telegraph.
"If we get encouraging results we will try and push it on as fast as we can. It's really a given that we try to focus on health problems which are significant ones. "When you're looking at treatments, your focus needs to be on diseases that are most common."
The new skin-cancer vaccine works by targeting papillomavirus, a common skin infection that affects most people and can linger in the body, turning abnormal cells into cancer.
Prof Frazer and his team from the Diamantina Institute at the University of Queensland are focusing on preventing squamous-cell skin cancer, which is strongly linked to papillomavirus.
Squamous cell is the second most common skin cancer, affecting 137,600 people in Australia this year and killing 400. It's not yet known if melanomas which are the most deadly form of skin cancer, are also caused by papillomavirus.
"My entire career has been focused on understanding the interaction between papillomavirus and the cancers they affect," Prof Frazer said. "We know it causes at least five per cent of all cancers globally so one in 20 of the cancers that people get is caused by papillomavirus. It's a huge issue."
The new vaccine is part of a two-pronged approach to tackle skin cancer. The other approach involves "switching off" one of the skin's controls to allow killer cells to destroy potentially cancerous cells.
"Getting the vaccine is the easy part," Prof Frazer said. "We need to introduce this other component to change the setting in the local environment. "The skin has a number of defences against the body's own immune system.
"What we're learning is the nature of those controls and how to turn them off."We can turn them off in animals and if we turn them off, the vaccine does its job.