Posted on behalf of Brendan Borrell
A Tasmanian devil who gave his life to saving his species from a contagious cancer has died at age 6.
Devil facial tumour disease was first documented in 1996 and is transmitted between animals when they bite one another and exchange contagious cells. Devil populations have since declined by 70%, and some believe the disease could wipe them out from the wild by 2040.
And so the much-beloved devil, named Cedric, inspired scientists and conservationists when he showed early signs of natural immunity against the disease. In 2007, Greg Woods at the University of Tasmania Menzies Research Institute injected Cedric and his half-brother, Clinky, with dead tumour cells and then challenged them with live cells. Clinky succumbed to the disease, but Cedric mounted an immune response, which seemed to protect him for a while.
Their hopes were dashed just over a year later, when Cedric developed two small facial tumours. Those tumours were excised, but two weeks ago, X-rays revealed that the tumours had spread to his lungs, and Cedric didn’t have a chance. He was euthanized. “This was a very sad day,‘’ researcher Alex Kreiss told The Age. ’’Cedric has played an important part in helping us to understand more about the disease.”
With hopes of an imminent vaccine dimming, scientists have been on the hunt for other devils that show resistance to the tumours. In March, scientists from the University of Sydney described a colony of devils in northwestern Tasmania that were genetically distinct from eastern populations and have so far not caught the disease. “We can say that we’ve got a glimmer of hope,” geneticist Kathy Belov told the Associated Press. “There may be some animals that may survive this epidemic."
Image: Alex Kreiss holds Cedric / University of Tasmania