September 1, 2010

Tumor Prompts Euthanization Of Tasmanian Devil

Researchers said Wednesday that a Tasmanian devil named Cedric has been euthanized after succumbing to a contagious facial cancer that the animal was once thought to be immune too.

The devil's death is another blow for scientists trying to put an end to the rapid spread of the cancer, which is transmitted when the black marsupials bite each other.

"It was very disappointing indeed," said scientist Alex Kreiss of the Menzies Research Institute in Hobart, Tasmania, which has led the studies on Cedric. "It's just made us more determined to keep the research going."

The Tasmanian devil population has fallen by 70 percent since Devil Facial Tumor Disease was discovered in 1996.  The disease may eventually bring the species to extinction. 

Menzies researchers injected Cedric and his half brother Clinky with facial cancer cells in 2007.  Even though Clinky developed the disease, scientists were given hope when Cedric showed an immune response and grew no tumors.  Researchers were hoping to use him to help create a vaccine.

However, Cedric developed two small facial tumors in late 2008 after being injected with a different strain of the cancer.  Current estimates say that the species, which do not exist outside of Tasmania, could be extinct within 25 years due to the cancer spreading.

Kreiss told The Associated Press that researchers removed Cedric's tumors, but x-rays taken two weeks ago showed that the cancer spread to the animal's lungs.

Kreiss said that surgery to remove the lung tumors was not an option, and chemotherapy would not have worked.

"We had to decide to euthanize him before he deteriorated," Kreiss, who has worked with Cedric for years, told AP. "It was a really hard decision.

He said that scientists plan to soldier on in their quest to develop a vaccine. 

Australian zoos have bred around 280 disease-free devils and officials are conducting "suppression trials," where infected animals are trapped and removed.

Kreiss told AP that the Menzies scientists buried Cedric, but have no plans to hold official memorial for him.


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