Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common form of skin cancer globally. SCCs almost always develop from within pre-cancerous patches of thick, scaly or crusty skin called actinic keratosis (AK) skin lesions. AK and SCC incidence rises with age and sun exposure, and are more common on sun exposed skin. This type of cancer rarely spreads and is not often fatal, however it can cause substantial personal and economic burden, estimated to be at least $700M AUD annually and rising.

In disease studies, immunosuppressed individuals (e.g. those receiving solid organ transplants) are observed to experience high SCC rates. This suggests there may a viral or microbial trigger of SCC. We hypothesise the natural skin microbiome is perturbed in AK lesions, and that a ‘hit and run’ action of bacterial involvement may be causing the development and transformation of AK lesions into SCCs. 

In this project, we are investigating differences in the skin microbiomes of AK lesions, SCC and normal skin of healthy and immunosuppressed individuals. Specifically, our aims are:

1.Identify potential microbes that may cause AK lesions

2.Understand the mechanism of SCC development

3.Develop treatments to prevent or reduce the formation of AK skin lesions.

Principal investigator: Prof. Phil Hugenholtz
Clinical Program Coordinator: Ms. Nancy Lachner
Bioinformatician/ Software Delveloper: Dr. Julian Zaugg


Australian Centre for Ecogenomics
Level 5, Molecular Biosciences Bldg
University of Queensland
Brisbane, Australia

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