Women’s health in the spotlight at UNSW

The International Gynaecologic Society held its first-ever Australian meeting at UNSW, underlining the university's great research strength in women's health.


Associate Professor Claire Wakefield. Photo: Peter Morris

Gardasil vaccine pioneer and National Living Treasure Ian Frazer has addressed the first-ever Australian annual meeting of the International Gynaecologic Society at UNSW.

In Australia, a national program provides all male and female students aged 12 to 13 with a free in-school HPV vaccine, which can help decrease their risk of developing HPV-related cancers.

“Professor Frazer’s story is a perfect example of translational research,” says Professor William Ledger, a fertility specialist at UNSW who chaired the meeting. “He started in a basic science lab and has ended up saving thousands of lives across Australia. That’s the holy grail for all of us who work in medical research.”

Professor Ledger says the International Gynaecologic Society is one of the oldest of its kind in the United States and this year marked its first Australian meeting.

“We were very pleased they chose to come to UNSW,” he says. “It’s a feather in our cap.” 

“We have great research strength in the areas of women’s health. By having these international meetings we can showcase the strength of what we do at UNSW and build our international profile. This is a key component of our 2025 Strategy.”  

The meeting covered a broad range of topics related to women’s health, including gynaecological cancers, obstetrics and the management of twin pregnancies, modern midwifery and birthing approaches, infertility problems, and high-risk maternal-foetal medicines.

Another keynote speaker was UNSW President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Jacobs, a world-leading expert in ovarian cancer. He talked about the progress being made in screening for this deadly disease, which kills about two in three sufferers in Australia.

In late 2015, the results of a 14-year trial that Professor Jacobs led in the United Kingdom – involving 202,638 post-menopausal women aged 50 to 74 – concluded that ovarian cancer screening with a blood test and specially designed statistical analysis could reduce mortality by an estimated 20%. 

Another UNSW researcher, Associate Professor Claire Wakefield, discussed the psychological benefits of an internet resource that allows parents grieving the loss of children from cancer to connect online and share their stories.

Professor Ledger also reported findings at the meeting. His team at the UNSW School of Women's and Children's Health have figured out a way to use fertility drugs to prevent ovarian hyper stimulation syndrome – a painful swelling of the ovaries that usually occurs in women undergoing IVF.