'Immune' animal succumbs to disease
A Tasmanian devil once thought to be immune to a contagious facial cancer threatening the species with extinction has been humanely destroyed after succumbing to the disease.
The death of the marsupial, named Cedric, previously heralded as a possible key to saving the rare animals, is another blow for scientists struggling to stop the rapid spread of the cancer which is transmitted when the creatures bite each other.
"It was very disappointing indeed," said 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% since devil facial tumour disease was first discovered in 1996.
The marsupials do not exist in the wild outside Tasmania, an island state south of mainland Australia.
In 2007, Menzies researchers injected Cedric and its half-brother Clinky with facial cancer cells. Clinky developed the disease but Cedric showed an immune response and grew no tumours, giving researchers hope that it could help them create a vaccine.
But in late 2008, Cedric developed two small facial tumours when it was injected with a different strain of the cancer, which causes facial growths which eventually grow so large it becomes impossible for the devils to eat.
The species may be extinct within 25 years because of the prolific spread of the cancer.
Menzies Research Institute will continue trying to develop a vaccine, Mr Kreiss said.
Several other projects are under way to help stave off extinction: Australian zoos have bred around 280 disease-free devils as insurance populations and officials are conducting "suppression trials" in which infected animals are trapped and removed.