CSIRO scientists have joined the battle to save Australias iconic Tasmanian devils from the deadly cancer currently devastating devil populations.
Researchers from CSIROs Livestock Industries Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL), Textiles and Fibre Technology and Land and Water, are working together to hunt down the cause of Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD) and possibly develop a test to identify infected animals.
DFTD is infectious and is thought to be passed between animals by biting when, for example, devils compete for food. Once the cancer becomes visible and spreads internally through the body, the animal usually dies within a few months from starvation and the breakdown of body functions.
The integrated research team at AAHL will use a variety of techniques including microscopy, microarrays and a range of molecular techniques to search for infectious agents, markers for disease and to determine where the tumours originate.
We will be working in a number of areas including establishing whether a virus or other infectious agents are associated with the tumours, AAHLs Dr Alex Hyatt said. If successful, the establishment of pre-clinical tests will allow researchers to remove known infected devils, in turn limiting the spread of the disease.
To date AAHL scientists have processed and examined 29 lesions from 12 affected animals and have also collected and processed a further 30 affected animals where both tumour tissue and tumours grown in the laboratory were examined.
A recent Senior Scientists Scientific Forum on the DFTD reviewed progress in understanding and managing the disease and set an agenda for future research and management.
The aim is to stop the disease in it tracks and we want to bring our experience of controlling infectious diseases to the research community involved to help achieve this, Dr Hyatt said.