Thursday, September 02, 2010

RIP Cedric

You may remember stories here and elsewhere about transmissible cancer among tasmanian devils. Devil facial tumour disease (DFTD), as it's called, isn't spread by a virus but rather by allografts of tumour cells of Schwann cell origin that spread from animal to animal by biting. This had raised some interesting questions about the immunology of these tumours. How do they avoid immune rejection? Is it possible to create a preventative vaccine?

One key thought to hold the answer to DFTD that has wreaked havoc on the tasmanian devil community is Cedric, a devil that was thought to be immune to the cancer. But alas, Cedric was recently euthanized after two facial tumours that had been surgically removed had been shown to have spread to the animal's lungs:
In 2007, Menzies researchers injected Cedric and his half brother Clinky with facial cancer cells. Clinky developed the disease, but Cedric showed an immune response and grew no tumors — giving researchers hope that he could help them create a vaccine.

But in late 2008, Cedric developed two small facial tumors after being injected with a different strain of the cancer, which causes grotesque facial growths that eventually grow so large, it becomes impossible for the devils to eat. Current estimates suggest the species could be extinct within 25 years due to the prolific spread of the cancer.

Researchers removed the tumors, and Cedric appeared to be rallying. But X-rays taken two weeks ago showed the cancer had spread to the 5-year-old's lungs, Kreiss said. Tests confirmed the lung tumors were a result of facial tumor disease.
This is a blow to the scientists trying to understand and curtail the spread of DFTD, but hopefully data from Cedric will push forward new strategies to help the devil population.