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Geelong research a devil face saver
Geelong Indy, Geelong  06 May 2016
General News - Page 7 - 272 words - ID 588850187 - Photo: No - Type: News Item - Size: 120.00cm2

Geelong research could stop a deadly cancer that put Tasmanian devils on the endangered list, according to Deakin University.

The key could be natural antibodies from the marsupial's own immune system, said Dr Beata Ujvari, from Deakin's Centre for Integrative Ecology.

Her work at the Waurn Pond campus compared immune system molecules from devils with and without the facial tumour disease.

The findings could halt the spread of the cancer, which had been devastating devil populations since it was identified in 1996, Dr Ujvari said.

"We know from human and animal studies that certain natural antibodies are able to recognise and kill cancerous cells, so we wanted to see whether the presence of these molecules would also determine tumour development in Tasmanian devils.

"We found that devils that have a higher ratio of these natural antibodies were less likely to have cancer. We can deduce then that devils with a higher natural antibody ratio are therefore less susceptible to the contagious cancer." Dr Ujvari's research was published in the latest edition of Nature Scientific Reports.

Dr Ujvari said that because the cancer was transmitted from devil to devil, their immune system should recognise the cells as foreign objects, like a pathogen, and work to eliminate them from the victim's system.

"However, this disease's cells are able to avoid recognition by the devils' immune systems and develop into large ulcerating tumours that ultimately kill the animals.

In 2009 the Australian Government listed the Tasmanian devil as endangered under national environmental law.

Dr Ujvari's research was a collaborative effort with researchers from other universities, government departments and a Save the Tasmanian Devil Program.

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