Leading cancer researcher inspires medical students

Published 31 July 2008

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Professor Ian Frazer, the 2006 Australian of the Year, inspired first-year medical students at the University of New England last week with a personal story of research that has already enabled 27 million women around the world to be immunised against cervical cancer.

Professor Frazer played a leading role in the development of the cervical cancer vaccine “Gardasil”, now licensed in more than 80 countries. He was guest speaker at the UNE Medical Society’s inaugural academic event on Thursday 24 July.

He began his talk by emphasising the importance of research experience as a “critical” part of medical training, and then traced his own career from a successful research project as a university undergraduate in Edinburgh to his current research as Director of the Diamantina Institute for Cancer, Immunology and Metabolic Medicine in Brisbane.

“Research is always a team activity,” he said, adding that “thousands of people around the world” had played a part in the development of “Gardasil” – a vaccine that is effective against the two types of human papillomavirus responsible for 70 per cent of cervical cancers.

The incorporation in the vaccine of protection against the remaining 30 per cent of cervical cancers, and widespread vaccination in the developing world, are among the aims that Professor Frazer and his colleagues are now pursuing. “In this country,” he said, “we could prevent that remaining 30 per cent through screening, but vaccination is necessary in the developing world.”

He referred to field trials of strategies for delivering the vaccine now under way in Vanuatu and Nepal. “We don’t want to divide the world into those who have access to the vaccine and those who don’t,” he said. “There are enough divisions in the world as it is.”

In encapsulating his own journey as a medical researcher, Professor Frazer spoke about the excitement of being part of a project at its inception and then right through the development phase to its successful implementation.

On the evening of the lecture the Vice-Chancellor of UNE, Professor Alan Pettigrew, as well as student officials of the UNE Medical Society, said the visit of such an internationally eminent medical researcher to UNE’s School of Rural Medicine mid-way through its first year of teaching was recognition of the new School’s important role in medical education.

The School of Rural Medicine is UNE’s part of the innovative Joint Medical Program (JMP). The JMP is an expansion of the highly successful University of Newcastle medical program in partnership with UNE, Hunter New England Health and Northern Sydney Central Coast Health.

THE PHOTOGRAPH displayed here shows Professor Frazer with UNE medical student Anuj Bohra who, as the UNE Medical Society’s Events Convener, organised last week’s event.