Cancer cure hope for endangered Tasmanian devil


Scientists have expressed hope for the future of the endangered Tasmanian devil after new research indicated human drugs can cure the cancers which are devastating the species.

The marsupial carnivores are believed to have suffered an 80 per cent decline in numbers since the mid-1990s, with only around 10,000 to 15,000 left in the wild.

This is mainly because the devils are susceptible to two of the tiny handful of transmissible cancers known in nature, which are passed between the animals when they bite each other.

However, a team at Cambridge University has now established that these facial tumours, known as DFT1 and DFT2, contain a receptor molecule, RTK, which oncologists already know how to target via human cancer drugs.

The drugs were applied to samples of the tumours in the lab where they were shown to stop the cancerous growth.

The diseases can also develop naturally in devils who have not been bitten

Published in the journal Cancer Cell, the study opens the possibility that the rapid decline of Tasmanian devil may be halted.

The DFT1 cancer first arose in a single individual devil several decades ago, but rather than dying together with this devil, the cancer survived by metastasising into different devils.

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