Melbourne PhD Student Seeks to Save the Tasmanian Devil from Possible Extinction


Melbourne, Australia -- (ReleaseWire) -- 07/26/2017 --A local PhD student, Ismael Aguirre Maclennan, is sympathetic to the plight of Tasmanian devils. Since 1996, an incurable, transmittable form of cancer called the devil facial tumor disease (DFTD) has been obliterating the Tasmanian devil population. During the last decade, this disease has killed nearly 80 percent of Tasmanian devils in existence.

If this goes on unchecked, DFTD could potentially infect and kill the last remaining healthy devils in the wild. There is also the possibility that the disease could mutate and gain the ability to infect other animals as well. It is difficult to predict exactly what kind of effect this disease could have. The current prognosis is definitely not good.

The Tasmanian devil plays a vital role in the Tasmanian ecosystem. Losing this animal could throw the entire region out of balance. The devil helps to control the prey and pest populations. The loss of devils thus far has already contributed to an increase in the number of foxes and feral cats in the area.

Through research at the La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science in Melbourne, Maclennan and his team have extracted stem cells from healthy Tasmanian devils. These cells can continue to be grown in the laboratory and have the ability to become any other type of cell in the devil's body. This could be the key to curing DFTD. Thus far, the test results have been positive.

To assist in their efforts, Maclennan and his team have launched a crowdfunding campaign for the project on Pozible. The funding will be used to help the team travel to Tasmania, obtain more healthy samples, update and improve the laboratory and continue their research. The end goal is to find a cure for DFTD and save the Tasmanian devil from extinction. Success in this area could even potentially unlock cancer-treatment mechanisms that may be applicable to humans in the future.

The campaign has a funding goal of $15,000 AUD. At the time of this release, the campaign has generated over $1,200 AUD in donations. The campaign will continue until August 7. Those who contribute to the project will be rewarded with a series of prizes, depending on the amount donated. Rewards include Tasmanian devil ringtones, posters and a meet-and-greet session with the team.