GSTF Journal of Veterinary Science (JVet)

, 1:6

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Devil Facial Tumor Disease, A Potential Model of the Cancer Stem-Cell Process?

  • Beata UjvariAffiliated withUniversity of Sydney Email author 
  • , Laura PiddingtonAffiliated withUniversity of Sydney
  • , Anne-Maree PearseAffiliated withDepartment of Primary Industries
  • , Sarah PeckAffiliated withUniversity of SydneyDepartment of Primary Industries
  • , Colette HarmsenAffiliated withDepartment of Primary Industries
  • , Robyn TaylorAffiliated withDepartment of Primary Industries
  • , Stephen PyecroftAffiliated withDepartment of Primary IndustriesUniversity of Adelaide
  • , Mark KowarskyAffiliated withEliza Hall Institute of Medical Research
  • , Thomas MadsenAffiliated withUniversity of Wollongong
    • , Anthony T. PapenfussAffiliated withEliza Hall Institute of Medical ResearchDepartment of Mathematics and Statistics, The University of Melbourne
    • , KatAffiliated withUniversity of Sydney


Tasmanian devil facial tumor disease (DFTD) is a naturally occurring contagious cancer which is transmitted as a clonal cell line between devils. The malignant cell line evolved from a Schwann cell or precursor prior to 1996 and since then has undergone continuous division without exhausting its replicative potential, suggesting a profound capacity for self renewal. It is therefore important to elucidate whether DFTD may have a stem cell origin. Deciphering the pathways regulating DFT cell proliferation and survival could lead to increased understanding of this transimissible cancer and to the development of successful therapies to halt the disease. We investigated whether DFT cells have originated from transformed stem cells by measuring the expression levels of thirteen genes characteristic to embryonic stem and/or pluripotent germ cells.

No differences in gene expression were observed between DFT cells and peripheral nerve controls, and therefore our results provide additional support for Schwann cell or peripheral nerve origin of DFTD. Although our dataset is preliminary, it does not suggest that DFTs have cancer stem cells (CSCs) origin. We provide details of further experiments needed to ultimately confirm the role of cancer stem cells in DFTD progression.

Index Terms

cancer marsupial Stem cell Tasmanian devil