January 5, 2016

Contagious form of cancer emerging

SCIENTISTS are investigating the possible emergence of a new form of cancer that may be transmitted from one person to another. A study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, said the cancer strain, known as Devil facial tumour disease (DFTD) can spread rapidly through populations, transmitted by biting.

Devil facial tumour disease (DFTD) can spread rapidly through populations, transmitted by biting. With eight reported cases across southeastern Tasmania, the cancer causes large facial tumors in infected Tasmanian devils and can result in death within months. It is the second transmissible cancer known to affect the species. This form is genetically distinct to the newly identified cancer.

To date there were two known forms of transmissible cancers in nature, and this included forms of tumour spreadable between Tasmanian devils, as well as between dogs and soft-shell clams. Scientists say that they knew about two other cancers that can be transmitted from animal to other – in dogs and soft shell.

Cancers normally cannot survive beyond the body of the host but this transmissible cancer can, through biting, see the transfer of living cancer cells between animals. Transmissible cancers, however, arise when cancer cells gain the ability to spread beyond the body of the host that first spawned them, by transmission of cancer cells to new hosts.

The researchers say that the contagious cancers are taking advantage of distinct Tasmanian devil behaviours and the low genetic diversity among the species.

“Fortunately this is similar to DFTD and the procedures in place to deal with DFTD will be used to investigate this new cancer”, said Greg Woods, a professor at the University of Tasmania. Researchers believe it would be  good idea to study the new strain a bit more.