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

Beata Ujvari, Laura Piddington, Anne-Maree Pearse, Sarah Peck, Colette Harmsen, Robyn Taylor, Stephen Pyecroft, Mark Kowarsky, Thomas Madsen, Anthony T. Papenfuss, Katherine Belov


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.


cancer, marsupial, Stem cell, Tasmanian devil

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