A pre-tumour diagnostic test for DFTD
ACROSS scientists at the University of Tasmania: Robert Shellie (front), with
(left from back) Emily Hilder, Michael Breadmore and Jessica Gathercole.
Photo courtesy of the The Mercury
A pre-tumour diagnostic test to screen Tasmanian devils for the Devil Facial
Tumour Disease (DFTD) has been pioneered by scientists as part of the Save the
Tasmanian Devil Program.
Dr Robert Shellie, from the Australian Centre for Research on Separation
Science (ACROSS), within the University of Tasmania’s School of Chemistry,
confirmed in April 2009 that tests for DFTD could become available for
widespread use. “Until now, unless a Tasmanian devil has a visible tumour, there
has been no way of knowing, or even guessing, if an animal is infected,” Dr
“While this development is not about finding a cure for DFTD, our unique
analysis of the blood applied to samples from the Tasmanian devil will set a
platform for future research into the disease, including disease suppression and
monitoring insurance populations.
“One of the consequences of studying the blood of devils using separation
science methodology is that we now have the scope to regularly test animals in
captivity to ensure they are free of the contagious cancer.”
Dr Shellie said the research involved the analysis of 100 blood samples from
DFTD-affected areas across Tasmania. The application of separation science to
create the DFTD diagnostic test involved the separation of complex mixtures into
their components, followed by the measurement of the amount of each component
present. Through these methods, the UTAS research team developed the approach
that provides a simple DFTD numerical score.
Dr Shellie said the results are extremely encouraging, but continued analysis
is required. “In the next six months we’ll be analysing blood samples of 1000
devils to validate our research,” he said.
“Our test is fast, taking about three to four hours to produce a result. It’s
also non-invasive - one drop of blood from an ear prick. And you don’t need a
PhD to use it.”