Cancer Mutation in Tasmanian Devils Shed Light on Human Tumors
Can Tasmanian devils offer insights into battling human cancers? While we may not understand what the fictitious Looney Tunes cartoon character was trying to tell us, a recent study by scientists at Washington State University (WSU) and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, may translate into the animals’ potential survival and lead to eventual treatment for human cancers.
Their findings were recently published in the journal Genetics, in a paper titled “Spontaneous Tumor Regression in Tasmanian Devils Associated with RASL11A Activation.”
For over 20 years, devil facial tumor disease (DFTD) has wreaked havoc on the Tasmanian devil population, killing tens of thousands and threatening their survival in the wild. About the size of a small dog, Tasmanian devils are known for their nocturnal shriek and strong jaws. DFTD is a transmissible cancer spread by biting. Tasmania devils frequently bite each other in fights over mates and food. After the bite, a solid tumor then grows around the face or neck, with the power to break bones in the jaw—killing the animal after 6 to 24 months. But in the past few years, some devils have developed higher tolerance to infection and even resistance.
Determined to uncover the specific mechanisms underlying spontaneous tumor regression without treatment in human cancer patients, the researchers led by Andrew Storfer, PhD, professor of biological sciences at WSU, and Mark Margres, PhD, previously at WSU and now a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University, delved into previous work focused on Tasmanian devil genetic variation association with the regression phenotype.
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