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Human anti-cancer drugs could help Tasmanian devils
Tasmanian devils are considered endangered as a result of devil facial tumour 1.
RTKs have ‘an important role’ in sustaining transmissible cancers

Key drugs used to treat cancer in humans may also be useful in the fight against transmissible cancers in Tasmanian devils.

This is according to a new study by the University of Cambridge, which found that certain drugs used in humans were able to efficiently stop the growth of devil cancer cells in the lab.

The research, published in the journal Cancer Cell, shows that molecules known as receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs) have an important role to play in sustaining the growth and survival of transmissible cancers in devils. Drugs targeting RTKs have already been developed for human cancers.

Tasmanian devils are considered endangered as a result of devil facial tumour 1 (DFT1), which is passed between animals through biting and causes disfiguring facial tumours. Usually fatal, DFT1 has spread throughout Tasmania since it was first seen in 1996, causing significant declines in devil populations.

Routine diagnostic screening in 2014 uncovered a second transmissible cancer in the species. With the naked eye, facial tumours caused by devil facial tumour 2 (DFT2) cannot be distinguished from those caused by DFT1, but analysis has shown they differ at a biological level.

Cambridge researchers found striking similarities between the two cancer types; in terms of genetics, tissues of origin, the way in which the cancer cells mutate and possible drug targets.

First author Dr Elizabeth Murchison said: “The story of Tasmanian devils in recent years has been a very concerning one. This study gives us optimism that anti-cancer drugs that are already in use in humans may offer a chance to assist with conservation efforts for this iconic animal.”

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New app to improve street dog welfare

News Story 1
 A new free app will support vital work in clinics caring for stray dogs around the world, experts say. Created by the University of Edinburgh, the tool allows vets to track the wellbeing of dogs going through catch-neuter-return schemes, which are common in countries with large numbers of strays.

Vets say the welfare of individual dogs can be overlooked during the process of capture, transport or surgery. The app, piloted across Asia and Africa, helps staff to monitor welfare, spot signs of distress and develop strategies to improve care. It was launched at BSAVA Congress on Friday 6 April.  

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Farm to fork traceability championed in new service

Defra has created a new information service to offer farm to fork traceability when the UK leaves the EU. The Livestock Information Service, which is set to be operational from 2019, will identify and track animal movements via electronic IDs, meaning the industry and government are better placed to respond in the event of a disease outbreak.

Environment secretary Michael Gove said: “This service will be instrumental in improving traceability and providing guarantees to consumers about the origin of their food. NFU President Minette Batters, among others, has helped lead the way on this, showing how it will drive a progressive and vibrant livestock industry once we leave the EU.”