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(generated from captions) Australian of the Year in 2006. Ian Frazer was made Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane He and his team at Princess to beat cervical cancers have developed a vaccine

worldwide. that kill 250,000 women a year is Ian Frazer. Tonight's Talking Head THEME MUSIC And you too. Ian, it's lovely to meet you. Australian of the Year. And congratulations on being Thank you very much for that. It's a great honour. When did you know breakthrough on your hands? that you really had a scientific That was back in 1991. My colleague Jian Zhou and I to try and make a virus were working on this project responsible for cervical cancer. that was the virus that was And we'd about six months of nothing very much working. virus-like particles were there, And then one day these of the actual virus we saw the picture at that time. and we knew we had a vaccine

know that you had something big? So, at that moment did you really it would work or not Well, we didn't know whether was going to be a vaccine but we knew if there it would be made. that would be the way at the time? Were you very excited, charged up, Yeah, I have to say exciting thing, scientifically, that it probably was the most that's happened in my lifetime. virus-like particles there Seeing these to get this for six months, and saying, "Hey, we've been trying "it hasn't worked at all, we've done something slightly different "and now, gee, there it is." as close as a scientist gets In a sense, that is about to the eureka moment, isn't it? Yes, I think that just the fact was a breakthrough. that an experiment worked And that particular one, obviously, was critical. at your early days in Scotland Ian, when you look back became a research scientist. it's not surprising that you Let's see why. in Glasgow, Scotland, IAN: I was born in 1953 born into an academic family. the eldest of three sons moved to Edinburgh My father, Sam, when I was three, at Edinburgh University. to take up a position in biochemistry My mother, Marion, as a career to that point. had also pursued medical research I remember my childhood as happy. to go off and do what I wanted to. I was given a lot of freedom It was easier in those days, to explore the world round about me. and I'd have plenty of time by objects and things. As a child I was always fascinated I could put them back together again. I liked to take them apart and see if I became really interested in science When I was at school in the science labs and spending lots of time with the science teachers. and talking by how things worked, I was really fascinated why they didn't always happen, what made them happen, in what I actually did at school. and that became a driving force was never around. My father, particularly, He was always busy with his work. used to say about me too. And that's what my kids They were always very impressed by the fact that I was doing good things by the fact that I wasn't there but less impressed on the Saturday. to take them to the football Apart from my wife and family there are two great loves in my life.

One is medicine and the other one's snow skiing. to snow skiing My parents introduced me a good way to spend the weekends. and I rapidly found that this was enjoyed the skiing and the fresh air. The company was good and I really a little too fast occasionally I liked the thrill of probably going and close to the edge of control. it's a very different environment - It's an escape, so to speak. a nice place to live and work, sufficiently keen on skiing Later on I became spent more time on the slopes that I actually than I did at school for a while.

about becoming a ski instructor And I thought very seriously

I was at university. at some point during the time and helping run I spent a lot of time running the Edinburgh University Ski Club. in the university It was the largest club and a very major social scene, although maybe only about half of the 500 members actually ever put snow skis on. was to be the bus convenor One of my jobs to the skiing at the weekend, for the buses that went up and it was on one of these buses that was to become my wife, Caroline. that I met the person I was after the friend, initially, She was with a friend, and Caroline was a much better catch. but it turned out that being all that impressed Ian, I can't imagine your parents a ski instructor. by the idea of you becoming Well, I guess at that time have to listen to their parents. people didn't always And I was away from home what I was thinking. so they never really knew I think they'd have been disappointed if I'd gone down that track. I'd have missed out on something They'd have thought

that I could have done. didn't they? They did lead you to science, Yeah, very much so. a scientific background at home I mean, there was and even when I was at school with her PhD studies. I can remember helping my mother out

She was studying diabetes, right? at diabetic nerves Yeah, she was looking diabetes on the nerves actually was. and seeing what the effect of Your father too was also... very much your father's son I mean, in a sense, you're as the research scientist. in biochemistry Yes, he was very much interested a very early stage in his career and, indeed, was involved in onto dialysis. in getting the first patients

So that this was a very new science then by the skin of your teeth. and it was all done in the middle of the night And he was up doing tests on the blood and water these patients with kidney failures. that would have been used to dialyse That reference you make back there

to the edge of control, to when skiing you're close the scientist is doing, isn't it? that's the polar opposite of what are conservative Yes, scientists, traditionally, going down what would, if you like, and they want to be sure to be be the mainstream of things. Where, certainly, skiing, it was an escape

and you could get away and take risk. And I enjoy taking risk in that circumstance - controlled risk, I don't want to kill myself. As the scientist you'd need to be very methodical. It helps a great deal to be methodical because when you're methodical you can see when something's happening that's out of the ordinary that's really of interest. Scientists who rush at things tend to ignore the things that are out of the ordinary. They put it down to their own mistake, if you like. Let's talk about school. You went to a Merchant's School in Scotland. The Merchant Company's Schools were a great idea. I mean, a lot of very wealthy traders in the 16th and 17th century

made large fortunes, I mean, some people would have called them... Pirates! Pirates, yes. And they brought this money back to Scotland and, I guess, an atonement for whatever they'd been up to. And why, then, was that a good place for you to continue to develop your interest in science? Well, they had had a strong tradition of education and, particularly, latterly in science, I think. And they stood out... they were single-sex schools

and I think that probably makes a difference too. You know, it's an environment where you don't have to compete, so to speak, you can just get on and do what you want to do and you can be a bit nerdy if you want. Was there a special teacher that actually stimulated your interest in science, which, of course, you were getting at home as well? Well, there was one particular physics' teacher called Spike, or at least he wasn't called Spike but that was how he was known to everybody in the class because he had a very short crew cut haircut. He was one of these people who could inspire an interest in the subject for you. And, also, he was prepared to put up with a lot of kids coming and pestering him after class and wanting to talk about science when I'm sure he really just wanted to go home. It's fascinating, in that little film clip you talk about how you loved pulling things to bits and remaking them. Yeah, and that carried on. I did that to radios and televisions when I was bigger. Later on you did it to human bodies. Yes, the human body is a very complicated machine and you can look at it that way and try and work out how it works. And maybe when the more simple mechanical things had become more routine, moving on to something which was really tough and which nobody really understood was the challenge. When you went into medicine did you see research science or did you see yourself as a doctor? Well, it's interesting, I definitely went into medicine with a view to doing research. But when I actually got involved in looking after people that became much more interesting for a while. And, certainly, when I finished my medical education I was clear I was going to be a doctor and work as a doctor. And it's only really in the last five years that I've stopped being a clinician. It was during that initial period of study that you first had your contact with Australia, wasn't it - 1974? Yes, I came out as a student. They had a scheme in those days called the Australian Working Visit Scheme, which was designed to bring engineers out to Australia, mostly, but they had a sort of token scientist and a token medic along as well. And I chose to come out to Melbourne to The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute because at that time that was the place for immunology in the world. And as an undergraduate I had been reading a lot of papers that had come from there and I wanted to see what it was all about. What turned you on in the first place about immunology? Yeah, that goes back a lot further than my undergraduate career. I mean, in childhood, somewhere, I picked up this real interest in infectious diseases and how we got rid of them. And it's difficult to actually pin down where that came from,

but there were certainly a number of experiences along the way of my contemporaries at school who had had infectious disease. Well, I remember the polio vaccine as an Australian student, it being mass-administered. What happened in Scotland? Well, it was the same. I remember lining up at school to get it when I was eight or nine. I think it was the business of being vaccinated that perhaps got me interested in "What are they doing to me?" sort of thing. Because you don't really understand what it's all about in those days. It's just a sore arm and you lined up to get it, but when you actually thought about why they were doing it then maybe that's what sparked off the interest. So, when you reflect back on your childhood, what does an upbringing in Scotland do to a laddie? Well, it gives you a great education because that's one thing Scotland's always been good for. And it gives you an enjoyment of the outdoor life as well because I think that one of the nice things about Scotland is that you can get out into the outdoors very easily from wherever you live. Because there's that famous Scottish independence too. Does that help in science, just having that independent mind? Yeah, I think it's an important part of science. In science you've got to be part of a team and most good science comes from teamwork. But you also have to be prepared to lead a team, at least at some point in the process, and I think that being independent helps that. Well, you got headhunted to Australia in the end, let's see what happened.

In 1981 I came out to Melbourne to take up a position at The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute. Research in Australia in general and at The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in particular was at the cutting edge of the field in immunology. And immunology research in Australia had a worldwide reputation for breaking new ground and making major discoveries. At that time I was studying a number of sexually transmitted infections and I became interested particularly in human papilloma viruses. That led me to become fascinated by how this virus appeared to be connected with cervical cancer. In 1985, after four years at The Hall Institute, I felt that it was time to establish a lab for myself. I looked around for jobs and was offered one in Brisbane at the Princess Alexandra Hospital where they were very keen to have someone who was wanting to set up a new laboratory. Setting up a new laboratory allowed me to choose the direction my research work was going to go in,

and by that time I had made a decision that I wanted to be particularly involved with papilloma virus and cervical cancer. At that time I had to be everything to everybody. For the hospital I had to run a diagnostic lab and provide clinical service. For the university I had a significant teaching load, administration and my own research work to pursue. It was getting a little hectic and something had to give. In 1989 I decided to take a sabbatical period in Cambridge in the United Kingdom. There I was working on papilloma virus immunology and was fortunate enough to meet the late Dr Jian Zhou. Jian was a molecular virologist who was particularly interested in papilloma viruses and was working in the lab next to mine. We used to meet over coffee and talk about how our work could be put together to come up with something new. And, fortunately, we came up with this idea of making a vaccine to prevent cervical cancer. We couldn't do much about it while Jian and I were in Cambridge, but when I came back to Australia in 1991 I invited him to come out and join me here. And there we pursued the idea of developing the vaccine

and came up with the idea of making virus-like particles, the basis of the current vaccine. Researchers always feel nervous about whether the work they're doing

is going to actually produce an outcome and there were times when we were working on the vaccine when we thought we'd no chance of it getting successfully completed. But, fortunately, we kept at it. Cervical cancer is one of the commonest causes of cancer death amongst women, killing about 250 million women worldwide every year. It's very pleasing to know that this vaccine will benefit most of the women in the developing world who currently are at highest risk of cervical cancer. Particularly in China, where Jian came from, cervical cancer is a very major problem, although not widely recognised as such in that country.

Well, that decision to come to Australia was certainly very fateful. How did it happen? Just tell us again about that. We'd been off skiing in Europe and had a skiing holiday, and we came back and in amongst the mail behind the door in our flat in Edinburgh was a telegram from my erstwhile boss when I'd been out in 1974, Ian Mackay. And he'd just sent a telegram saying, "Where are you?" Perhaps in the vernacular these days, "Where the bloody hell are you?" He said, "When you're finished your training, please, do come back," and, of course, he'd been counting the years and worked out that I must have finished my training by now and could I perhaps consider coming out? What about the break with Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, this decision to come to Brisbane and set up your own laboratory here? The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute were quite happy if I'd stayed there, but I felt it was time to try and set up my own laboratory and see what I could do on my own.

Was this part of your fierce Scottish independence? Yeah, I suppose it must have been, the desire to go off and see if I could do it for myself. Because it wasn't all that promising, was it, to begin with? It wasn't as though you were going to be lavished with resources.

No, it was obviously going to be tough. It was a little easier in those days than it is now.

A scientist trying to get off the ground on their own now has a really hard job of it, it's very hard to get grants. Fortunately, when I went up to Brisbane I'd already applied for and known that I'd been given at least one grant by the National Health and Medical Research Council. So I went to Brisbane with a little bit of money in my pocket to spend to get the work off the ground. Well, let's talk about Jian Zhou. You met him when you went back to study for a time in Britain. Yes, that's right. Jian was working with Lionel Crawford in one lab and I was working with Margaret Stanley in the lab next door. But Lionel Crawford's lab had better resources than Margaret Stanley's lab so I was quite a lot of the time in Lionel Crawford's lab and got to know Jian very well. You later were the reason for his coming here, weren't you? Yes, after we'd talked about it and we decided that it really would be good if we could collaborate together I was really keen to get him to come out to Australia and join the lab with me. So, in simple terms, what bit was your contribution, what bit was his? What did he bring?

Well, he brought in the skills in molecular virology, so he was good at making genes and getting them expressed in cells. And me, I was interested in the vaccine side of things and the immunology, so I was thinking about how this could actually be used to make a vaccine. He was probably uniquely able, at that time, to take the gene that eventually became the basis of the vaccine and clone it in such a way that we could use it. Because it was a very big gene and cloning very big genes in those days was really hard work. And then from the moment that you actually discovered the potential for the vaccine, that's just the beginning of a much longer process which, in a sense, has been out of your hands for 10 years. Yeah, pretty much. We did quite a bit of work in the first couple of years to show that the virus-like particles behaved the way we would expect them to do. But then once we'd done that bit and you'd got past the stage of what you could do in the laboratory, we really had to hand it to somebody who could scale up the whole process, make lots of material, test it in patients, find out if it worked. In a way, Australia really doesn't have the capacity to do all those steps by itself, I presume. Yeah, that was a shame, really. We couldn't take it into the clinic back in 1991 even if we'd wanted to. I would have very much liked to, but we couldn't then. I have to say that really it would be very hard to do that now. That's an area where I think we need to build up our infrastructure a bit so we can take the next round of breakthroughs and get them out there into the clinic in Australia. Jian Zhou made a fateful trip to China. Yes, he...had been a little bit unwell. We went off to a meeting in the United States

and he just felt under the weather, nothing very much. Came back to Australia and then he decided he would go off to China to visit colleagues there. And that's all in the course of a couple of weeks. And became very seriously ill while he was in China and died unexpectedly. So it all came completely out of the blue for everybody, including his wife. Did she ever feel that she got a satisfactory answer to what happened? Well, I don't think we'll ever know exactly what happened. We all have our suspicions,

but it's really very difficult when somebody becomes very ill suddenly and then dies over a short period of time, you really don't know what the problem's been. So, do you have darker moments where you feel like... just wasn't an accident?

Oh, I mean, I have...

..I get sad reflecting on all of what happened to him. I just wish he'd actually stayed in Australia where we might have been able to do something that wasn't possible in China in those days. But you can't tell, sometimes fate does that sort of thing.

Well, out of the blue, you made Australian of the Year, which must have a big impact on anyone. Let's see the sort of impact it's had on you. Scientists tend to live sedentary lives and I really enjoy being fit and healthy. Riding to work gives me a great chance to think about what I'm going to be doing during the course of the day and think through the problems that I might have to solve during that time. It's a time when I'm not interrupted and the phone can't ring and I don't have to worry about emails and people coming in through the lab door. Cycling is quicker for me than it would be to take a car, but I'm also a bit environment-conscious. And driving a car all the way to the hospital just for one person when we're running out of oil doesn't seem a particularly sensible strategy. VOICE: Level four. These days I don't get so much time at the laboratory bench myself anymore, rather I do my science through my students. I have currently six students who are studying various aspects of the problems that we're interested in at the moment. Hi. How's it going? Good. I want to show you this. I talk with them when I get the chance, try and help them to see how to solve problems. I don't try and actually tell them what to do so much but rather give them a chance to do what they would like to do and get on with it themselves. Yeah, that looks a bit better. A fair bit of my time is spent being an administrator, obviously, keeping the centre running and making sure that everybody gets the opportunities they need to do the work they'd like to do. Being a director of an institute is really a matter of changing the light bulbs and keeping the toilets clean, metaphorically, because what you're trying to do is provide the right working environment for others. Congratulations. Thank you very much. In January of this year I was honoured to be selected as Australian of the Year for 2006. This came as a considerable surprise to me, and it was really exciting, I must admit, to see that science could be honoured in that way. I've always felt that what I do in life should be good for the community. I think that that's the measure of being an Australian citizen. It's not so much where you're born, it's what you're actually doing beyond what people expect of you. At the beginning of the year Caroline and I decided that we should take up a new sport and find something that we could do together which we really enjoyed.

Partly it was to get away from the pressure of the working environment, particularly this year being Australian of the Year it would be nice to have something we could do where we were able to get away from the telephone.

And they haven't yet found a mobile phone that'll work under 12m of water. I couldn't do what I currently do without my wife. There's no doubt Caroline is the driving force that keeps me going at times when things are going badly. She supports me when there's troubles, but she gives me guidance when I'm going off the rails a bit, and that's really important.

I'm very fortunate that my children still live at home with us. I really enjoy having them around

now that they've grown up and have become young adults it's really quite a pleasant thing, being able to come home and talk with them about things. But I was perhaps a bit of an absentee landlord when I was younger and working hard and they were looking for a father figure and I would be off doing research elsewhere. I tried to make up for that as best I could then, as I do now, but it's really important to me to have family round about me. I can't ever see myself sitting around and doing nothing.

At one point I even suggested that I should retire from science and take up ski instructing,

which I once thought about doing when I was a child, and I've come back to the idea of doing now as an adult. But I don't think it'll happen. Somehow I suspect I'll still be in the lab when I'm 80. Well, have you had a chance to reflect much on the fact that this work, which continues, of course, really does change the lives and the life fate of millions of women? When you go and visit the countries where cervical cancer is a problem and talk to the people there about the problems that they're facing with cervical cancer you realise the potential for this vaccine. It's really important to get it out there and get it used in these countries where cervical cancer is the commonest or second commonest cause of cancer death in women. What about this argument that by vaccinating young women, and you're suggesting before they get to the age to have sex, that would in time promote promiscuity? I think that that argument is defeated by the immunology. The vaccine actually works an awful lot better if it's given to young girls between the ages of 9 and 12 than it does if you wait until you're older and started to become sexually active. So you get a better response giving it to young people.

And I think that that teaches you that you've gotta give the vaccine then. Well, people will do whatever they're going to do after that. How do you actually get momentum and traction going to actually get the support you need to continue this work?

Scientists need profile, don't they? I mean, people that are seeking grant funds that actually need assistance from others? Well, it helps if you're trying to get charitable money, and we could do with a few more philanthropists in Australia who would be prepared to give money like that. When it comes to getting money out of the system, if you like, through your colleagues, the only thing that counts is the results you've had in the past, you're track record and what you're proposing to do. Nobody's interested in whether you've got a public profile or not, they just want to know if you can do good science. When you became an Australian what year was it? That was 1998. So in the early days, relatively. It wasn't really a hard decision to become Australian once we decided we wanted to stay in Australia. I suppose it's an unusual thing to have an Australian of the Year who spent much of their early life outside Australia. Well, not that unusual. A third of all the Australians of the Year are 1st-generation Australians, and that actually reflects the demographic of the country pretty well. A third of all of us are 1st-generation Australians too. To pursue science these days... ..there's a great lack of students wanting to actually take on science careers and take on science as a subject at universities. I mean, is that a national problem? Got to be realistic about it, at the moment if you go into science you get money for three years for your own salary. And at the end of that time you apply for some more and you've got one chance in three you'll be successful. You can do that when you're young, but when you've got a wife and kids and a mortgage it's really hard if you don't know whether you're gonna have a job in three years time or not. And that will depend not on whether you're good at doing your job but simply whether there's enough money around to pay you. So I think we've got to make the careers for scientists look better. And I guess that's one of the advantages of being the Australian of the Year. You can promote the concept of a career in science but you can also get out there and tell people that they need to do something about making scientists want to stay as scientists. But, of course, with any immersion in something like this there's a personal cost. What's been the personal cost to you? You talk about, for instance back there, about not having enough time with the kids. Yeah, science is sort of all-consuming. If you wanna get on with it you've got to spend most of your time thinking and doing it. And that does have a personal cost, there's no doubt. You don't get the chance to be a person outside of science as much as you'd like. Most people can to some extent leave their job behind when they go home at night, it's very hard for a scientist to do that for a whole range of reasons. Apart from anything else, you're thinking with your mind all the time, and your mind's trying to solve the problems that you're faced with during the day. You get this pressure on you which you feel you've got to use to push the ideas out there. I used to generate so many ideas I didn't know what to do with them. And what about cancer? Will people in the 21st century at some stage think, "Well, cancer was a big problem back at the turn of the century "but it's much less so now"? Well, we could do a lot to make it less of a problem. I mean, 25% of cancers are caused by things we do to ourselves - smoking, sun exposure, bad dietary habits, and they should be in principle pretty much preventable. 25% of all cancers are caused by infections. And eventually we'll be left with the hard fact that as we grow older mistakes occur when our cells divide and if we get the wrong accumulation of mistakes they turn into cancer. So it will be a problem that I think we'll be faced with effectively forever. But you're working at that end too, on treatments. Oh, yes, and we've obviously got to think

of better ways of treating the cancers as they arise,

and we're doing a lot better than we used to do. Cancer is a survivable disease these days and it's not the death sentence that people think it is. It's really something which if it's caught early it can almost always be cured. I'll let you get back to the laboratory. It's been great talking to you. Thank you very much. It's been good to speak with you. Ian Frazer. And that's our program for this week. We'll be back with another Talking Heads same time next week. If you'd like to look at our website we're at: I'll see you again soon. Closed Captions provided by Captioning and Subtitling International Pty Ltd PETER: And next week on Talking Heads, Rosemary Stanton. WOMAN: I did realise I was never going to be a great beauty and therefore I'd better be useful. So I have been cursed with the useful gene. I actually think all I really need in life is a salad spinner. MAN: Wednesday on The Cook and the Chef, transforming the traditional. They're an eat straightaway, aren't they?

They're about winter comfort food. Everything old is new again. That's The Cook and the Chef, Wednesday at 6:30.

This program is not subtitled This program is captioned live. Tonight - Scornful States slam Peter Costello's bid for more Federal powers. Israel launches more attacks, As the Palestinians issue an ultimatum. 50th birthday honours for an Aussie icon. And Socceroo star Tim Cahill goes back to his old school. Good evening. Virginia Haussegger with ABC News.

State Premiers have flatly rejected the Treasurer's call for an overhaul of federalism and for the Commonwealth to take complete control of running the economy. Peter Costello has been accused of being arrogant and of trying to bash the States. The Treasurer's jetted off to the Solomon Islands, but his call for the states to hand over financial control to the Commonwealth,

including taxes and regulatory authority, has left State leaders fuming.