Forget Ebola and all the fears that caused. Researchers and now discovering a form on cancer that is believed to be contagious.
Transmissible cancers – cancers which can spread between individuals by the transfer of living cancer cells – are believed to arise extremely rarely in nature.
One of the few known transmissible cancers causes facial tumours in Tasmanian devils, and is threatening this species with extinction.
The discovery by researchers from the University of Tasmania in Australia, and the University of Cambridge in UK, calls into question our current understanding of the processes that drive cancers to become transmissible.
Tasmanian devils are iconic marsupial carnivores that are only found in the wild in Tasmania. The size of a small dog, the animals have a reputation for ferocity as they frequently bite each other during mating and feeding interactions.
In 1996, researchers observed Tasmanian devils in the north-east of the island with tumours affecting the face and mouth; soon it was discovered that these tumours were contagious between devils, spread by biting.
The cancer spreads rapidly throughout the animal’s body and the disease usually causes the death of affected animals within months of the appearance of symptoms.0