Cancer Clue May Save Tasmanian Devils

Scientists find the origins of fast-spreading disease
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 1, 2010 7:06 AM CST
Cancer Clue May Save Tasmanian Devils
A file photo of a Tasmanian devil with the fast-spreading cancer.   (Anonymous)

Hope for Tasmanian devils: Scientists think they've found the origin of a contagious cancer threatening to wipe them out. An international research team picked apart the cancer's genes and discovered that it apparently first arose in cells that protect the animals' nerves. The surprise finding, reported in today's edition of Science, may eventually lead to a vaccine or at least treatments.

"The clock's ticking," said the lead researcher at Australian National University. "It's awful to think there could be no devils here in 50 years because they're dying so quickly." Since the disease's discovery in 1996, the number of Tasmanian devils has plummeted by 70 percent, leading Australia to list them as an endangered species. (Read more Tasmanian Devil stories.)

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