New devil cancer detected in Southern Tasmania

A new transmissible cancer similar to Devil Facial Tumour Disease has has been found in eight Tasmanian devils in the state's South.

Researchers were alerted to the possibility of a new cancer when two members of the public reported two individual devils with facial tumours in D'Entrecasteaux Channel area.

A Tasmanian devil with a diseased mouth. Picture: courtesy of Save the Tasmanian Devils Program

A Tasmanian devil with a diseased mouth. Picture: courtesy of Save the Tasmanian Devils Program

There had since been six more devils found with the new cancer in the area.

Lead DFTD researcher at the Menzies Institute for Medical Research Professor Greg Woods said the new cancer - known as DFT2 - was unlikely that it had already spread to the state's North.

DFT2 caused tumours on the devil's face or inside the mouth, and researchers believed it was spread between the animals by biting.

Transmissible cancers were extremely rare, only occurring in Tasmanian devils, dogs, and clams.

The discovery of two transmissible cancers in the Tasmanian devil shocked researchers, Professor Woods said.

A Tasmanian devil with a diseased eye. Picture: courtesy of Save the Tasmanian Devils Program

A Tasmanian devil with a diseased eye. Picture: courtesy of Save the Tasmanian Devils Program

"Fortunately this is similar to DFTD and the procedures in place to deal with DFTD will be used to investigate this new cancer," Professor Woods said.

"Vaccine research will not be affected as the new cancer can be incorporated into the vaccine," he said.

It was virtually impossible to tell by sight which cancer devils were suffering from, as DFT1 - the existing cancer - and DFT2 presented with the same symptoms, Professor Woods said. 

Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment's Howel Williams said that the detection of a potential new threat or risk to the devil species was concerning, but it was important to remember a response program was already in place.

"Although it is still in the early days of understanding whether the new type of DFTD will have similar impacts to DFTD, its identification highlights the importance of the co-operative work being undertaken by the Save the Tasmanian Devil program with research partners including the Menzies Institute and Cambridge University," Dr Williams said.

“It’s important that new diseases or other threats to the Tasmanian devil are identified so we can determine if further measures are required to reduce the potential impact of them  on the Tasmanian devil.” 

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