Facial tumours of Tasmanian devils belong to rare cases of transmissible cancers. More than 90% of the population of devils is extinct due to two distinct Schwannoma cell lines that spread among the species. They are of great interest for biomedical research, as they allow the study of fundamental properties of cancer cells and how they escape the host´s immune system. Using cutting-edge technologies, scientists of the group of Andreas Bergthaler at the CeMM Research Center for Molecular Medicine of the Austrian Academy of Sciences and members of the groups of Richard Moriggl and Christoph Bock, both SFB JakStat Monarchies at the Vienna University of Veterinary Medicine together with international collaborators identified the ERBB receptor-STAT3 axis as key molecular mechanisms allowing for the transmissibility of the tumour cells. Importantly, the consortium showed that the inhibition of ERBB receptors with a selective tyrosine kinase inhibitor or pharmacologic intervention of STAT3 could selectively kill the transmissible cancer cells upregulating MHC class I allowing for immune cell recognition. This could play an important role for the treatment and understanding of the disease to rescue the Tasmanian devil in the isolated island from extinction.

Publication in Cancer Cell:

Lindsay Kosack, Bettina Wingelhofer, Alexandra Popa, Anna Orlova, Benedikt Agerer, Bojan Vilagos, Peter Majek, Katja Parapatics, Alexander Lercher, Anna Ringler, Johanna Klughammer, Mark Smyth, Kseniya Khamina, Hatoon Baazim, Elvin D. de Araujo, David A. Rosa, Jisung Park, Gary Tin, Siawash Ahmar, Patrick T. Gunning, Christoph Bock, Hannah V. Siddle, Gregory M. Woods, Stefan Kubicek, Elisabeth P. Murchison, Keiryn L. Bennett, Richard Moriggl and Andreas Bergthaler

The ERBB-STAT3 Axis Drives Tasmanian Devil Facial Tumor Disease (2019) DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ccell.2018.11.018

See also “The Deadly Bite of STAT3” mini review Cancer Cell by Hagen Schwenzer and Ariberto Fassati: DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ccell.2018.12.004