Tasmanian devil facial tumor disease: Insights into reduced tumor surveillance from an unusual malignancy


  • Iain D. O'Neill

    Corresponding author
    1. de L'immeuble 3, Centre d'Affaires Poincaré, 3 Rue Poincaré, 06000, Nice, France
    • de l'immeuble 3, Centre d'Affaires Poincaré, 3 Rue Poincaré, 06000, Nice, France
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Tasmanian devil facial tumor disease (DFTD) is a highly aggressive cancer involving the facial tissues that currently presents a serious extinction risk for the Tasmanian devil population. Although the histogenesis is uncertain, an origin from a neural crest cell-lineage is considered likely. Epidemiological, cytogenetic and immunological data all support the premise that DFTD arose from a single tumor clone from an individual diseased animal, and is being transmitted between individual animals as a tumor “allograft” by biting during social interaction. The spread of this cancer throughout the species is believed to be facilitated by a reduced MHC diversity, possibly as a result of an evolutionary bottleneck. The pathogenesis of DFTD has some similarities with certain human cancers, including donor-recipient tumor transmission, which may complicate organ transplantation, and certain forms of malignancy at the maternal/fetal interface. The natural history and pathology of DFTD, and the data describing this highly unusual tumor biology are discussed.