HELPING SEA TURTLES SURVIVE USING HUMAN CANCER TREATMENTS By Becky Aud
By Becky Aud
We at STPS are committed to helping sea turtles survive and thankfully, we are not the only ones. Recent studies by the University of Florida researchers have shown that treating sea turtles with human anti-cancer drugs and procedures dramatically reduces the tumor regrowth that our flippered friends have been experiencing all over the world.
A sea turtle’s reality is very different than the fun loving, laid back and playful way they are depicted in the popular media. All sea turtles found in the world’s oceans are classified as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered. Globally, sea turtles are heavily plagued by debilitating soft tissue tumors. These tumors inhibit the animals’ vision, feeding and movement. Combined with other human caused environmental problems (water pollution and depleted ozone layer) these tumors threaten the very existence of sea turtles.
The sea turtle soft tissue tumors are caused by a disease called fibropapillomatosis which is similar to human cancers. It was first described by marine biologists in the Florida Keys during the early 1900’s and has been studied since. Researchers have recently identified a turtle specific herpes virus associated with fibropapillomatosis. However, having the disease doesn’t necessarily lead to tumor formation. The tumor formation is triggered by environmental conditions – human created issues such as water pollution and increased UV radiation exposure caused by the depleted ozone layer. These combined factors make the sea turtles tumors similar to human cancer types like basal cell carcinoma (BCC). This realization ultimately lead to the idea of treating the sea turtles with human cancer treatments.
Fibropapillomatosis is treated by surgically removing the tumors from the sea turtles. This treatment by itself helps, but there is a 60% chance of the tumor re-growing within 36 days. Researchers expect regrowth rates on sea turtles in their natural habitats to be much faster. It has also been found that ocular tumors regrow significantly faster than tumors located in other parts of their bodies. Researchers have been able to reduce the re-growth rate from 60% to 18% by pairing the tumor removal with topically applied Flourouacil – a cream used to treat BCC.
To further the cause, University of Florida researchers would not only like to expand their investigations outside of Florida, but would also like to expand their inquiries on the anti-cancer drugs available to treat Fibropapillomatisos. They also plan to study tumor sub-types, such as treatment for sea turtles harboring internal tumors.
With continued and expanded research, all of us doing our part reduce water pollution and depletion of the ozone layer and a little luck, eradication of this rapidly spreading, debilitating disease may come. Cheers to helping sea turtles survive!
|Sea turtle with multiple tumors. Photo credit by Phys.org|
|Sea turtle with large occular tumor and other tumors. Photo credit by discover magazine.|
|One of the largest tumors removed from a sea turtle. Photo credit by turtlehospital.com.|
|Sea turtle with multiple tumors. Photo credit by oncologynews.com|