The Tasmanian Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD)

Beata Ujvari

Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii)

Tasmanian devil with DFTD lesions

The emergence of Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD), a highly contagious and clonally transmissible cancer, has driven the already inbred Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii) populations to the brink of extinction.
The disease results in large ulcerating lesions around the head of the affected animals. The cancer is transmitted by biting during social interactions, and leads to the death of animals within 6 months after the emergence of lesions.
The cancer is transmitted as an allograft during biting and transmission occurs due to lack of immune-recognition. Devils in the infected areas not only have been proven to be essentially identical at their immune genes, but also they share these genes with the DFTD cells, therefore, the devil’s immune system recognizes the DFTD cells as self and does not mount an immune response against them.
The members of the Australasian Wildlife Genomics Group are investigating the immune evasion mechanisms of DFTD, the genetic polymorphism of devil populations, and the development and evolution of this unique transmissible cancer.