Saving the Tasmanian Devil from deadly facial cancer

Jenny Decker RN's picture

Scientists have recently discovered the genetic code to the deadly facial tumor disease (DFTD) that has wiped out nearly 60 percent of the Tasmanian Devil population. The Tasmanian Devil, made popular by the famed Bugs Bunny, lives in Tasmania which is an island on the southeastern coast of Australia. The devil is a large carnivorous marsupial, the largest in the world. Scientists are hopeful that a vaccine could be developed for this deadly cancer to save the Tasmanian Devil and possibly for an anti-cancer vaccine in humans.

DFTD is passed by bites when fighting or mating. The tumor quickly spreads on the face and down to internal organs, killing the devil within 9 weeks. Dr. Elizabeth Murchison, Australian National University in Canberra and the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, USA, led the research team. Samples of the facial tumor showed interesting results. It was found that the cancer cells begin in Schwann cells. According to WebMD, Schwann cells form a fatty type tissue around nerve fibers that allow for cushioning with electrical impulses. This tissue is known as myelin.


With the discovery of the genetic composition of the deadly facial tumor disease, scientists will be able to develop a diagnostic test, writes PRAVDA Ru. This test will use Schwann cells as diagnostic markers. The research team hopes to be able to develop not just vaccines, but therapies as well. Without this discovery, the Tasmanian Devils could be wiped out within 35 years by this deadly cancer.

This type of cancer is called infectious cancer. It is transmitted from one to another by physical contact. In humans, there are over 100 different types of cancer, however this cancer in Tasmanian devils has not yet been a problem in humans. This research may be a path to preventing such cancers in humans. Signs and symptoms of each type of cancer in humans differ from the other. However, there are warning signs of cancer for all to be aware of. These can be remembered by the word CAUTION:

C- change in bowel or bladder habits
A- sore that does not heal
U- unusual bleeding or discharge
T- thickening or lump anywhere, but especially breasts or testicles
I- indigestion or difficulty swallowing
O- obvious change in size, color, shape, or thickness in a wart, mole, or sore in the mouth
N- nagging cough or hoarseness that does not go away

If you notice any of these warning signs, call your doctor. Other signs to be aware of may include persistant headaches, unexplained appetite changes, chronic pain in bones or other areas, fatigue that persists for a long time, nausea and vomiting without explanation, a persistent low-grade fever that comes and goes or is constant, and repeated instances of infection.