Skin Cancer Vaccine announced
Former Australian of the Year, Professor Ian Frazer has announced a breakthrough in the prevention of skin cancer. In a world first, the Australian scientist who discovered a vaccine for cervical cancer, revealed at the Australian Health and Medical Research Congress in Brisbane last November that a skin cancer vaccine could be ready within the next 5 to 10 years. Clinical trials will commence this year.
Close to 400,000 people are diagnosed with skin cancer in the sunburnt country each year, and Professor Frazer said that even if the vaccine worked on humans, people should not stop protecting themselves from the sun.
It should be noted that a vaccine is not a replacement for prevention. If the [human] trials are successful it will give us one extra layer of prevention but it doesn't replace the other preventative measures of slip, slop, slap, wearing sunglasses and going into the shade. "As has been seen with cervical cancer, although it may deal with 70 per cent of cancers of the cervix, the vaccine doesn't deal with the other 30 per cent. And so it is with a vaccine related to skin cancer. The message is still that one of the most powerful things that we can do is reduce the risk by reducing our exposure to sunlight."
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.
Professor 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.
The future is sometime off here and even if we get this vaccine in place in the next decade it's absolutely imperative that in the meantime we continue to take a very active stance in managing the risk factors that each of us have control over.
As with the vaccination 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.
He said it would be rewarding to develop a vaccine for a cancer that was so prevalent in Australia with its hot climate.
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," Professor 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."
Information for this article is based on articles published in the Daily Telegraph, The Sydney Morning Herald and the Age newspapers.