Environmental Laboratory

Could Natural Immunity Be Present in Animals?

Oct 29 2016 Read 949 Times

Research from the island of Tasmania in Australia suggests that animals may be capable of developing natural immunity to certain diseases and toxins. Tasmanian devils, who had been feared to be on the verge of extinction after the dissemination of a cancerous epidemic, have been discovered to have developed a natural immune response to the deadly disease.

The breakthrough, discovered by researchers from the University of Tasmania and detailed in a report by a Royal Society Publishing journal, is the first indication that the cancer is survivable.

A deadly disease

The cancer, known as devil facial tumour disease (DFTD), is one of only three known transmissible cancers in the world and was first discovered in 1996. In the 20 years since then, it has successfully wiped out 90% of the Tasmanian devil population and the remaining 10% were feared to follow imminently.

Up until now, the disease has led to the death of its host within 12 months of contraction. However, since 2009, the researchers have come across six devils which have developed an immunity to DFTD and gone on to make a full recovery. All six originate from the same small population on the western edges of Cradle Mountain National Park, in a region known as West Pine.

The news is hugely encouraging for environmentalists, who had suspected that there would be no stopping DFTD. Now, however, it appears that, according to the study, “extinction in the short term is unlikely, and most likely, in the long term, the devils will be able to recover”.

Nature aiding science

Scientists are continually on the search for new ways to aid recovery and growth, both in humans and animals, such as the recent developments in the growth of human blood vessels. However, here it appears that nature has beaten the laboratory to the punch by responding to the DFTD epidemic and saving the bad-tempered critters from extinction.

Professor Greg Woods has been working on a vaccine for the disease for some time and is hugely encouraged by the latest discovery. The most positive aspect of the find is the correlation between the regression of the tumour and the development of an antibody, though the exact relationship between the two remains unclear.

“What we don’t know is whether the immune response contributed to the tumour regression or whether the tumour regressed and that triggered an immune response – in other words, the tumour started dying and that produced antibodies,” explained Professor Woods.

So far, a serum has been extracted from the immune devils and used to create a vaccine. Of those immunised with the vaccine, none have yet been diagnosed with the disease – although several have been killed by vehicular traffic.

Image Source: Chen Wu
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