Morris Animal Foundation-funded researcher Dr. Deanne Whitworth, and her colleagues at the University of Queensland in Australia, have taken the first step toward developing an effective treatment for devil facial tumor disease (DFTD), which is decimating Tasmanian devils in the wild. The team's findings were published in the January 15, 2018 issue of Stem Cells and Development. The article is titled “Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells from a Marsupial, the Tasmanian Devil (Sarcophilus harrisii): Insight into the Evolution of Mammalian Pluripotency.” The University of Queensland team has been exploring the possibility of using stem-cell therapy to eradicate tumor cells from Tasmanian devils suffering from DFTD, a deadly transmissible cancer unique to this species. But first they had to find ways to grow and maintain marsupial stem cells, a feat that has not been achieved until now. Dr. Whitworth and her team successfully generated induced pluripotent Tasmanian devil stem cells in the laboratory. The team generated the cells as a first step toward developing a novel and effective treatment for devil facial tumor disease. "Since its discovery in 1996, DFTD has decimated 95 percent of the devil population," said Dr. Whitworth. "It is estimated that within 20 to 30 years, the devil will be extinct in the wild. Our work is moving us closer to finding a strategy to prevent the spread of DFTD and to cure animals already infected with the disease." Induced pluripotent stem cells are cells that have been reprogrammed back to an embryonic stem-cell-like state. The generation of these special cells from humans and other mammals has paved the way for the expanding field of stem cell research and new therapies.
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