Immunotherapy trial cures Tasmanian devils of DFTD
An international study involving multiple
institutions over six years has shown that immunotherapy can cure Tasmanian
devils of the deadly devil facial tumour disease (DFTD).
The research was led by the University
of Tasmania's Menzies Institute for Medical Research with input from the School
of Medicine. It also involved the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical
Research, and the Universities of Sydney, Southampton, Southern Denmark and
Professor Greg Woods, the leader
of the DFTD team at Menzies, said scientists used immunotherapy on devils with
a golf-ball sized tumours and then observed the tumours gradually shrinking and
disappearing over three months. "This is almost a Eureka moment for us because it's
the first time we can say for sure that it was the immunotherapy that was
making the tumour shrink," Professor Woods said.
Building a good understanding of
the devil's immune system, which goes hand in hand with the development of a vaccine,
involves years of painstaking laboratory work. The process is incremental, but
with each step scientists are closing in on the disease. This breakthrough is
the next step on from work published in 2015 that showed that the devil's
immune system was capable of mounting an immune response to DFTD.
Professor Woods said the latest
work underlined that the devil's immune system is its best ally against DFTD. "This
is an important step along the way to developing a vaccine to protect against
DFTD and potentially for immunotherapy to cure devils of established DFTD," he
Dr Cesar Tovar is the lead author
on the latest paper. He said the results were very encouraging as they confirmed
that it was possible to trigger the devil's immune system to recognise and
destroy established DFTD tumours. "Our research shows that a DFTD vaccine is
feasible. We are focusing our efforts on developing strategies to improve the devils'
response to immunisation," Dr Tovar said.
The research was published in Scientific
Reports. It was funded by the Australian Research Council, the National Health
and Medical Research Council and the WellcomeTrust, with additional support from
the University of Tasmania Foundation through funds raised by the Save the
Tasmanian Devil Appeal.
Professor Woods said the support
of the Save the Tasmanian Devil Appeal (www.tassiedevil.com.au) was critical for ongoing work.
C Tovar, RJ Pye, A Kreiss, Y Cheng, GK Brown, JM Darby,
RC. Malley, HV Siddle, K Skjodt, J Kaufman, A Silva, A Baz Morelli, AT
Papenfuss, LM Corcoran, JM Murphy, MJ Pearse, K Belov, AB Lyons and GM. Woods
(2017). "Regression of devil facial tumour disease following immunotherapy
in immunised Tasmanian devils." Scientific Reports
The paper is available here once