Researchers from the University of Tasmania in Australia and the U.K.'s University of Cambridge have discovered a second form of contagious cancer while studying Tasmanian devils.
According to the researchers, this type of disease can be transferred through bites, UPI reported.
Before the discovery, only one of contagious cancer was known to infect the animals. Named as the Devil Facial Tumor Disease (DFTD), this condition spreads through biting and causes tumors to form on the Tasmanian devils' face and neck.
The disease is so severe that every animal that was infected with DFTD died. This disease has been causing the decline in the population of Tasmanian devils since 1996.
Due to the nature of the disease, the researchers regularly carry out examinations on Tasmanian devils in order to develop an effective vaccine. During one of their medical procedures, they noticed that some tumor samples taken from animals with DFTD had varying features.
Upon closer investigation, they discovered that some of the Tasmanian devils that they were observing have been infected with a different type of contagious cancer. This made them question the rarity of the disease.
"Until now we've always thought that transmissible cancers arise extremely rarely in nature," senior researcher Dr. Elizabeth Murchison said in a statement. "But this new discovery makes us question this belief."
In addition, the discovery of the new form of disease, currently being called DFTD 2, has made researchers wonder if the Tasmanian devils have some kind of vulnerability to the disease.
"Previously, we thought that Tasmanian devils were extremely unlucky to have fallen victim to a single runaway cancer that emerged from an individual devil and spread through the devil population by biting," Dr. Murchison explained.
"However, now that we have discovered that this has happened a second time, it makes us wonder if Tasmanian devils might be particularly vulnerable to developing this type of disease, or that transmissible cancers may not be as rare in nature as we previously thought," she added.
Fortunately, despite the discovery of the new disease, the researchers noted that the characteristics of DFTD 2 do not differ much from DFTD. This means they still be able to use their existing data for the development of a vaccine.
"Fortunately this is similar to DFTD and the procedures in place to deal with DFTD will be used to investigate this new cancer," researcher Greg Woods said.
The study carried out by the researchers was published on December 28 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.