NBN “Medical Marvels” Series – Melanoma research

Jun 3 2009

Cancer affects around 88,000 Australians each year. One in three Australian men and one in four women will be diagnosed with cancer by the age of 75.

Associate Professor Darren Shafren


Associate Professor Darren Shafren from the University of Newcastle is investigating the use of viruses to selectively infect and destroy cancerous cells while leaving normal tissue intact. As viruses spread throughout the body, they may also help kill tumour cells that have travelled to other parts of the body.

Darren and his research team have demonstrated the effectiveness of a common cold virus (Coxsackievirus A21) as a treatment to kill melanoma cells, both in laboratory tests and animal models.

What have you discovered?

We have discovered a number of naturally occurring common cold viruses that target and kill human cancer cells in laboratory cultures.

Why is this significant?

There is an ongoing need to produce new anti-cancer strategies as we try to increase efficacy rates in the field of oncology.

ur research product is successful in human trials it may have a direct impact in reducing the excessive use of current anti-cancer agents. It is possible virotherapy may have less toxicity than conventional cancer therapies and therefore, may have a possible flow to increasing wellbeing during treatment.
How will this contribute to our understanding of disease?

Understanding the mode of action of the potential new treatment strategy will allow us to better design anti-cancer drugs.

What do you hope to achieve in the future?

The use of naturally occurring viruses in combination with current anti-cancer strategies to cure cancers.

What have you achieved since the PULSE Prize in 1999?

My research has expanded from limiting common cold infections to using the cold virus as anti-cancer agents. Candidate viruses are currently in the early stages of human clinical evaluations.

Our pre-clinical and early clinical evaluation studies are being watched closely by a large number of international bodies, particularly within the oncolytic virus field and commercial development companies.

I have published numerous peer-reviewed journal articles on our research and received approximately $1.75 million in National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) funding.

Darren is a member of the HMRI Viruses, Infections/Immunity, Vaccines & Asthma (VIVA) Research Program.

His research has received significant support from the Greater Building Society through HMRI. The Greater Building Society has also supported Darren’s Post Doctoral scientist Gough Au, an early career researcher who is now a member of PULSE.