University Of Tasmania
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Curse of the devil: molecular insights into the emergence of transmissible cancers in the Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii)

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posted on 2023-05-20, 09:19 authored by Amanda PatchettAmanda Patchett, Andrew FliesAndrew Flies, Alan LyonsAlan Lyons, Gregory WoodsGregory Woods
The Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii) is the only mammalian species known to be affected by multiple transmissible cancers. Devil facial tumours 1 and 2 (DFT1 and DFT2) are independent neoplastic cell lineages that produce large, disfiguring cancers known as devil facial tumour disease (DFTD). The long-term persistence of wild Tasmanian devils is threatened due to the ability of DFTD cells to propagate as contagious allografts and the high mortality rate of DFTD. Recent studies have demonstrated that both DFT1 and DFT2 cancers originated from founder cells of the Schwann cell lineage, an uncommon origin of malignant cancer in humans. This unprecedented finding has revealed a potential predisposition of Tasmanian devils to transmissible cancers of the Schwann cell lineage. In this review, we compare the molecular nature of human Schwann cells and nerve sheath tumours with DFT1 and DFT2 to gain insights into the emergence of transmissible cancers in the Tasmanian devil. We discuss a potential mechanism, whereby Schwann cell plasticity and frequent wounding in Tasmanian devils combine with an inherent cancer predisposition and low genetic diversity to give rise to transmissible Schwann cell cancers in devils on rare occasions.


University of Tasmania Foundation Inc


Publication title

Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences










Menzies Institute for Medical Research


Birkhauser Verlag Ag

Place of publication

Viadukstrasse 40-44, Po Box 133, Basel, Switzerland, Ch-4010

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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

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  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Control of pests, diseases and exotic species in terrestrial environments; Expanding knowledge in the biological sciences