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Cancer pioneer named Australian of Year -

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(generated from captions) No,up. He will now. That report from Mick Bunworth. to be a country Time was when Australia seemed

its sports stars. obsessed with honouring in recent years, But that seems to have changed top scientists as a succession of the country's for ground-breaking research. has been recognised Scots-born immunologist Ian Frazer. Joining that stellar list is in this country Professor Frazer began his career more than 25 years ago Hall Institute in Melbourne at the prestigious Walter and Eliza of Queensland. before moving to the University the vaccine that It was there that he developed as Australian of the Year. has seen him honoured Millions of women all over world for this medical breakthrough, have reason to be grateful

which can prevent cervical cancer. in Canberra. I spoke with Professor Frazer a significant honour for you Ian Frazer, of course. and a great day for science, Yes, I'm very excited about it. Have you had time as yet to consider with this award, what you might want to do to send? what messages you might want There are a couple. One is to promote medical research to the community because of the benefits that come from it - and that's well something I try to do all the time. But there's another thing which is a broader thing, which is how good it is to do things which benefit other people and scientific research is something you do altruistically to a large extent, and I think that society needs to know that it's a good thing to do to benefit others and it makes you feel good yourself. Bring us up-to-date on, in fact, why you've been honoured with Australian of the Year? The vaccine that, in fact, that you've come up with that will prevent cervical cancer. Where are we at on that? Well, the vaccine has been put through what are called "phase three clinical trials" which are if you like the gathering of the evidence that you need to prove to the authorities that the vaccine really should be used in the community. The vaccine have shown that the vaccine is 100% effective

at preventing the virus that causes cervical cancer. That's extraordinary, isn't it? 100% effectiveness. Yes, we would have been quite happy with 70, 80% and to see 100% effectiveness in a vaccine is really good. Obviously, there's only two types of virus in the vaccine at the moment, so that's only 70% of cervical cancer that can be prevented. But for those two types, the vaccine's 100% effective. But initially, how will you see the vaccine being used? Would it be to vaccinate, say, teenage girls before they start their sexual life? Well initially that's going to be the major target, to vaccinate young women before they become sexually active. And in the first few years after they become sexually active, there'll be a sort of catch-up period while we're trying to protect people who have not yet likely caught the virus even although they may have been sexually active. And ideally, you're talking about a mass vaccination in the way there used to be with, say, polio, TB? I think it will have to be a staged introduction.

Apart from anything else, just getting the vaccine out there takes a little while. The logistics are not that simple,

and we've got a lot of education to do for the public, to the medical profession, as well. Of what kind, would you suggest? We've got to teach people why a vaccine might prevent cervical cancer in the first place. It's quite a strange idea when you think about it. Cancer isn't really associated with infection, and this is a vaccine to preference an infection which people haven't yet associated with the cancer in their mind. So we'll have to explain the vaccine can prevent an infection,

and the infection in turn can lead to the cancer and we've got to make sure it doesn't disturb the current Pap smear program too much. Because we really will have to carry on with that. It's a very effective means of preventing cervical cancer. It works and in Australia it works really well so we don't want to make people think that because they have been vaccinated, they don't need to take part in the Pap smear program.

But eventually would you envisage that it would render the Pap smear unnecessary? When we broaden out the coverage of the vaccine to include a few more types of papilloma virus. So move from 70% to 95% of the types that cause cervical cancer, then yes, I could imagine that this would take the place of the Pap smear program completely.

We are talking about something that could really transform the health outcome for millions of women, aren't we? Globally, cervical cancer is a very common cancer. It's either the commonest or second commonest cause of cancer death amongst women in most countries in the world. And a vaccine to prevent the 250,000 deaths that occur from cervical cancer will have to be a good public health measure. What about in the developing world? How would you see its application there? And who would pay for that, of course? Well, there are big logistic problems there, aren't there? We've got to try to get a vaccine to young women. At the moment, there are no health care measures delivered to young women in the developing world at all. We see girls until they're 2 years old to get the expanded vaccine, measles, polio et cetera and then usually women are not seen again until they're pregnant with their first child. So there's a gap in the middle where health care can't be delivered and we need to find a way of getting the vaccine out there to these young women. Possibly when they're about to leave school, so 10 to 12-year-olds in the developing world. That's ideally where the vaccine would be given. I guess it's not hard to envisage that there would also be perhaps in some countries cultural resistance, religious resistance to something like that on the grounds that perhaps it's, you know, you had the vaccine and then it's an invitation, if you like, to sexual licence or something like that. How do you think this should be handled? Obviously I've heard those stories and indeed they are not just in the developing world. There are websites in the United States which are promoting the same idea.

Clearly, it doesn't discriminate amongst other people who have had lots of sexual partners or just one and it causes the cancer just the same way. So I don't believe the argument. How we overcome it is obviously going to be a bit harder. I think one way to treat it is to see this as a vaccine cancer and if we remove the idea that it's to to with sexually transmitted infection, it might make it easier to sell. For those looking at this tonight and considering your achievements, they might be saying, "Where did this bloke's interest in science begin?"

Where does that story start for you?

Was it in a classroom when you were a small boy? I guess it must have started in some way at home. My father was a doctor - is a doctor - and my mother was a scientist and the two of them obviously set up the environment right. When I went to school I was always interested in science and I just had an inquiring mind. I was the sort of kid that played with the chemistry set and automatically mixed everything together to see if it would go bang and that sort of desire to find out what happens and how things work extends itself into biology and how people work and how diseases work and that leads to the interest I think. Just a final point. Do you have any suggestions - as we are in the start of the new century, what many are saying is going to be the century of the biosciences on how I suppose we get more of the complexity or perhaps take some of the complexity out of those issues, get that message across to a broader public, a broader public understanding of what's involved in some of these things? Yes, that's a difficult isn't it. Yes, that's a difficult one isn't Yes, that's a difficult one isn't it. On the other hand you want to make sure what scientists are up to, you don't want them in any sense of the word to be frightened by the mystery of it. On the one hand, it is technically quite difficult and you've got to, therefore, have people whose job it is to explain in simple terms to a wide audience why what's going on is important, where if there are risks or controversies that can be resolved. Stem cell research is a very good example of that. There's been a lot of controversy in that area over the last few years fuelled by a few unfortunate misadventures

by various scientists worldwide who haven't necessarily taken an ethical approach to things.

We do need to explain to people what stem cell research is about and that's actually very hard, because it's hard to explain even to other scientists

why the sort of stem cell research that's currently being done is not an attempt to clone humans or anything like it. But simply a means to developing tools to help fix up diseases. Just on that point, though, do you think as we progress in this area - and certainly in the area of therapeutic cloning - do you think over the century and perhaps beyond, this will eventually change our notion of what it is to be human? The essential humanness of people will not change, but our ability to build the spare part tool kit will certainly improve. I just hope I live long enough to benefit from it. Ian Frazer, for your time tonight thank you, and congratulations again. Thank you very much.