Sunday Herald Sun
July 31, 2011 12:00AM
CANCER expert Prof Ian Frazer is on the verge of a major breakthrough in skin cancer – he hopes to develop a vaccine within a year.
The former Australian of the Year and creator of the world’s first cervical cancer vaccine, Gardasil, has developed a world-first strategy to combat the insidious disease that affects two out of three Australians.
“In my lifetime we should be able to remove the threat of skin cancer from the next generation,” the 57-year-old immunology professor said.
“The smoking gun evidence is there is a virus or viruses that cause it.”
Prof Frazer believes people can “catch” cancer from a virus.
He proved his theory by identifying the human papilloma virus (HPV) as the cause of cervical cancer and then developing a vaccine against the virus to rid the female population of the cancer.
Now he is using a similar tactic to try to combat skin cancer, including malignant melanomas.
“This group of cancers caused by virus infection present a great opportunity because the idea of vaccinating to prevent a cancer is enormously appealing,” he said.
Prof Frazer said the problem was two-fold.
“Genetics and variations in people’s immune systems may expose some people to greater risk of skin cancer after sun exposure,” he said.
“If you take away the body’s defence systems, skin cancer becomes more common.”
His theory is that some viruses – particularly the wart virus or HPV – are embedded in the layers of the skin, which then pose a skin cancer risk for people with damaged immune systems.