Tasmanian Devils are the subject of intense scrutiny because they carry a very unusual form of cancer. First described in 1996, facial tumor disease (FTD) is an infectious cancer. While there are some cancers that are caused by viral infection (e.g. cervical cancer and Burkitt’s lymphoma), facial tumor disease has no viral origin, but is infectious because the cancer cells themselves can be passed from one host to the next.
One hypothesis scientists have proposed to explain this infectious cancer is the Tasmanian Devil’s relatively weak immune response. The innate immune response is the first response Tasmanian Devils would mount to reject the foreign cancerous cells. Using BioMart, I found that there are over 20,000 characterized Tasmanian Devil genes. Twenty Four of these 20,456 are described as part of the innate immune response. If this was a class setting, I would use this as a starting point to discuss cytokine networks and how immune processes protect (or fail to protect) against cancer.