New findings in research funded by Morris Animal Foundation offer valuable insight on how to fight devil facial tumor disease DFTD that has resulted in a catastrophic decline in wild Tasmanian devils. Researchers have shed light on how the tumors successfully evade the immune system, which may offer possible strategies to protect the endangered devils from this devastating disease. Andy Flies, a Morris Animal Foundation-funded researcher and one of the study's authors. Devil facial tumor disease DFTD was discovered in and kills nearly every devil it infects, with some experts estimating a decrease of 90 percent or more in wild devil populations. One of just three known contagious cancers the other two are a transmissible venereal tumor in dogs and a water-borne leukemia in soft-shell clams , researchers believe DFTD is transferred between individuals through biting behaviors. The disease first struck populations in northeastern Tasmania, but now encompasses most of the geographic range of Sarcophilus harrisii , threatening the iconic devil with extinction.
Facing Facts: Why a transmissible facial cancer is decimating Tasmanian devil populations
Genetic mutation drives tumor regression in Tasmanian Devils | EurekAlert! Science News
A new study of Tasmanian devils has revealed that a transmissible cancer which has devastated devil populations in recent years in unlikely to cause extinction of the iconic species. An international team of scientists from the UK, Australia and the USA matched field epidemiological evidence from wild populations collected over a year period in north-west Tasmania with simulation studies, which revealed that DFTD is unlikely to continue causing ongoing population declines of Tasmanian devils in future. They say the findings of their study, published in Ecology , offers much-needed hope that the species, which is the world's largest remaining marsupial carnivore, will not necessarily become extinct due to DFTD. First discovered in north-eastern Tasmania in , DFTD causes tumours to form on the face and neck of the animal. The cancer spreads when the devils bite each other's faces during fighting, thus killing the animals within six to twenty four months. Dr Konstans Wells, lead author of the study, said: "Our findings suggest that immediate management interventions are unlikely to be necessary to ensure the survival of Tasmanian devil populations.
Researchers one step closer to understanding deadly facial tumor in Tasmanian devils
Their results appear in the journal Cancer Cell. Tasmanian devil Sarcophilus harrisii. Image credit: J. The same applies for human cancers: apart from some rare cases, like the accidental transmission by a cut during surgery, there are no reports of contagious cancer cells. A multitude of molecular safety measures of the immune system are responsible for rejecting and destroying any foreign tissue.
View more Devil May Care: Tasmanian Devil Evolution in the Face of Lethal, Contagious Cancer Cancers are clonal cell lineages that emerge due to the acquisition of genetic mutations that promote aberrant proliferation and survival. Cancer is the natural consequence of prolonged life expectancy; longer life allows for the accumulation of mutations that can lead to cancer. Cells from one individual are different enough from cells of other individuals that, when transferred, they can be identified as foreign invaders and can be rejected.