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New hope for Tasmanian devils

Researcher Dr Deanne Whitworth and her colleagues at the University of Queensland, have taken the first step toward developing an effective treatment for devil facial tumour (DFTD), a disease decimating Tasmanian devils in the wild.

The University of Queensland team has been exploring the possibility of using stem-cell therapy to eradicate tumour cells from Tasmanian devils suffering from DFTD, a deadly transmissible cancer unique to this species. But first they had to find ways to grow and maintain marsupial stem cells, a feat that has not been realised until now.

Dr Whitworth and her team successfully generated Tasmanian devil stem cells in the laboratory. The team generated the cells as a first step toward developing a novel and effective treatment for devil facial tumour disease.

“Since its discovery in 1996, DFTD has decimated 95 per cent of the devil population,” said Dr Whitworth.

“It is estimated that within 20 to 30 years, the devil will be extinct in the wild. Our work is moving us closer to finding a strategy to prevent the spread of DFTD and to cure animals already infected with the disease.”

DFTD is a highly unique form of transmissible cancer that is passed from one devil to another through biting, a common behaviour that takes place during feeding and mating.

The vast majority of infected Tasmanian devils die within three to six months of developing visible tumours. Primary tumours typically develop on the face or inside the mouth, and quickly grow into large tumours that metastasize to the internal organs.

Currently there is no cure for or prevention against DFTD and researchers are racing to find ways to save these iconic animals.

The University of Queensland team hope that the devil stem cells may one day be used to kill existing tumours or provide immune protection against DFTD to help save Tasmanian devils from pending extinction.

Are you worried about the plight of Tasmanian devils?

7 comments

Are you worried about the plight of Tasmanian devils?

Yes ... hope the new research helps in some way. Awful disease unique to the devils ... seems to be widespread and rapidly lethal.

Research into Tasmanian devil facial tumour disease (DFTD) could help in understanding the growth of cancerous tumours in humans.

I hope that  they can come to terms with this awful disease they are delightful critters.

Surely people have heard of Devil Ark? It's a program run by the Australian Reptile Park on land donated by the Packer family in the Barrington Tops region of NSW. They are breeding DFTD free Tasmanian Devils and are releasing them back in Tasmania in areas free of the DFTD. Donations from the public are always accepted and details can be found at www.devilark.org.au/

I have nothing to do with this project but I support the positive steps that have been taken to stop Tasmania losing one of its iconic creatures. Sure, find a cure for the tumours but be aware that the suggested extinction may be a very long way off because of the Australian Reptile Park.

I hate to see devils suffering from this awful disease, so I hope the research helps conquer it before they die out.

The breeding program is good, too, but it's worthwhile to attack the problem from both sides.

Such a very terrible disease. I wonder how it began.

I applaud the University of Queensland for their research.

There are so many endangered species throughout the world.  Mostly from the action of humans.  We should be making stronger stand to halt this crime.

 

... .these dear dear critters have been understimated for years - years!  I have seen them many times in Tasmania .....the ones I have seen have never ever really looked that well?

Pity they seem to get so many diseases????  Wonder why?

When I was in Tassie for 7 weeks -- I never saw a wild one I had to go to the zoo to see them

7 comments



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