Skin Cancer Vaccine May Be Within Reach: Scientist

SYDNEY ~ An Australian scientist who developed a vaccine for cervical cancer said this week a vaccine that could prevent some skin cancers may be possible within a decade.

Professor Ian Frazer said that tests of the vaccine on animals had proven successful and that human trials could begin as soon as next year.

“We can teach the immune system the trick it needs to fight the viruses that cause these skin cancers relatively easily with a vaccine, but getting them to go to the right place and do the right thing is the challenge,” he told reporters in Brisbane.

“And what we’ve learned is a trick where we can overcome that particular block.”

Frazer, who delivered his findings to the Australian Health and Medical Research Congress on Monday, said the vaccine would protect against squamous cell carcinoma but not the more deadly melanomas.

He said a vaccine developed from the research, which began in 1985, was still a decade away.

“It’s taken us that long to understand how the immune system works in the skin so that we can make the necessary steps to get the breakthrough,” the Queensland University researcher said.

“If it works in humans it will be a major step forward.”

The vaccine would be used on children aged between 10 and 12 to prevent them from developing skin cancer – a disease that causes some 1,600 deaths in Australia each year.

Close to 400,000 people are diagnosed with skin cancer in the sun-soaked country each year, and cancer specialists said even if the vaccine worked on humans, people should not stop protecting themselves from the sun.

David Currow, the head of Cancer Australia, a government body that assists with research and education, warned that the vaccine may not prevent all skin cancers.

“As we’ve seen with cervical cancer, although it may deal with 70 percent of cancers of the cervix, the vaccine doesn’t deal with the other 30 percent,” he told ABC radio.

“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.”

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