Written by Renee Borgeaud

Produced for online by Jessica McGrath

A cure may be at hand for Tasmanian Devils with studies finding a breakthrough in the Devil Facial Tumor Disease which has threatened the population for more than 10 years.

Tasmanian Devil Tumor Disease
Devil Tumor Disease has threatened Tasmanian Devil populations.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

An international study involving multiple institutions over six years has shown immunotherapy as a cure for Tasmanian devils suffering from the deadly disease.

The disease is spread through biting and is one of the leading causes of death in Tasmanian devils.

Map of the spread of the Tasmanian Devil Facial Tumor 1996-2015
The spread of the Tasmanian Devil Facial Tumor as of 2015, from the first detection in 1996.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Menzies Institute for Medical Research professor Greg Woods lead the recent study, saying it was “an important step along the way to developing a vaccine to protect devils against DFTD.”

Trowunna Wildlife Park owner and director, Androo Kelly says the recent research requires a wider group of devils in order to truly determine its effectiveness.

“It may not prove to have a great efficacy because I don’t think it is going to be possible to actually treat the wild devils with a vaccine to start with.”

Mr Kelly believes the disease may be progressive, with genetic structures influencing the chances of survival.

“It may actually be a natural evolutionary shift in the devils to fight against the disease itself.”

Tasmania Zoo owner Dick Warren says although the breakthrough is helpful, immunisation would be almost impossible in the wild.

Mr Warren says the life span of a healthy Tasmanian Devil is four to five years, with orphaned young being typically found disease free.

The Tasmania Zoo has bred disease free ‘Tassie Devils’ for more than 14 years, without any threat of DFTD.

If successful, the immunisation would lead to the protection of the devils with hope their immune system would fight the cancer cells.