Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Hope for threatened Tasmanian devils

Date:
March 11, 2013
Source:
University of Cambridge
Summary:
New research paves the way for the development of a vaccine for the Tasmanian devil, currently on the brink of extinction because of a contagious cancer.

Healthy Tasmanian devil.
Credit: Darran Leal, Save the Tasmanian Devil Program

New research paves the way for the development of a vaccine for the Tasmanian devil, currently on the brink of extinction because of a contagious cancer.

It has been less than two decades since scientists discovered the contagious cancer devil facial tumour disease (DFTD) which causes 100 per cent mortality in the endangered marsupials. The facial cancer, which spreads when the devils bite each other's faces during fighting, kills its victims in a matter of months. As it has already wiped out the majority of the population with sightings of devils reduced by 85 per cent, scientists are desperate to find out more about the mysterious cancer which somehow manages to evade the devils' immune system.

Until now, scientists have believed that the tumours were able to avoid detection by the immune system because the Tasmanian devils have very little genetic diversity (preventing the immune system from recognising the tumour as foreign). However, a University of Cambridge led collaboration with the Universities of Tasmania, Sydney and South Denmark has discovered that the explanation is more complex.

On the surface of nearly every mammalian cell are major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecules. These molecules enable the immune system to determine if a cell is friend or foe, triggering an immune response if the cell is foreign and a potential threat. The new research, published 11 March, in the journal PNAS, reveals that DFTD cancer cells lack these critical molecules, thereby avoiding detection by the devils' immune system.

Professor Jim Kaufman, from the University of Cambridge's Department of Pathology, said: "Once it was found that the cancer was escaping from the devils' immune system, scientists needed to figure out how."

The researchers found that the DFTD cells have lost the expression of MHC molecules, but that the genes that code for these molecules are still intact. This means that these genes could potentially be turned back on. Indeed, the scientists showed that by introducing signalling molecules such as interferon-gamma, a protein which triggers the immune response, the DFTD cells can be forced to express MHC molecules.

Dr Hannah Siddle, lead author of the paper from the University of Cambridge, said: "Developing a vaccine based on our research could tip the balance in the favour of the devil and give them a fighting chance."

"However, we still face some hurdles. The tumour is evolving over time and any vaccine programme would have to take this into consideration. Also, because of the difficulties of vaccinating a wild population, it may be more efficient to use a vaccine in the context of returning captive devils to the wild."

Although the only other contagious cancer has been found in dogs (canine transmissible venereal cancer), the rapid development of DFTD highlights how quickly they can emerge.

Professor Kaufman added: "Our study has implications beyond the Tasmanian devil. Sooner or later a human strain of contagious cancer will develop, and this work gives us insight into how these diseases emerge and evolve."

The research was funded by the Wellcome Trust.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Cambridge. The original story is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Hannah V. Siddle et al. Reversible epigenetic down-regulation of MHC molecules by devil facial tumour disease illustrates immune escape by a contagious cancer. PNAS, 2013 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1219920110

Cite This Page:

University of Cambridge. "Hope for threatened Tasmanian devils." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 March 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/03/130311173627.htm>.
University of Cambridge. (2013, March 11). Hope for threatened Tasmanian devils. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 29, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/03/130311173627.htm
University of Cambridge. "Hope for threatened Tasmanian devils." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/03/130311173627.htm (accessed August 29, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Friday, August 29, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Killer Amoeba Found in Louisiana Water System

Killer Amoeba Found in Louisiana Water System

AP (Aug. 28, 2014) State health officials say testing has confirmed the presence of a killer amoeba in a water system serving three St. John the Baptist Parish towns. (Aug. 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Australian Sheep Gets Long Overdue Haircut

Raw: Australian Sheep Gets Long Overdue Haircut

AP (Aug. 28, 2014) Hoping to break the record for world's wooliest, Shaun the sheep came up 10 pounds shy with his fleece weighing over 50 pounds after being shorn for the first time in years. (Aug. 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Minds Blown: Scientists Develop Fish That Walk On Land

Minds Blown: Scientists Develop Fish That Walk On Land

Newsy (Aug. 28, 2014) Canadian scientists looking into the very first land animals took a fish out of water and forced it to walk. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Huge Ancient Wine Cellar Found In Israel

Huge Ancient Wine Cellar Found In Israel

Newsy (Aug. 28, 2014) An international team uncovered a large ancient wine celler that likely belonged to a Cannonite ruler. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins