Following up from my previous post, I've reprinted (with permission) Dr Greg Woods' kind response and clarity of the role of his work. Dr Woods' devotion to improving the prospects of the wild population of Tasmanian devils is well established, and we appreciate his thoughtful words.
Sincerely, Tim Faulkner President Devil Ark CoM
From Dr Woods:
I thought it would be appropriate to add support to your well thought out and clearly explained fb letter (17 March) to your supporters. Our research (and announcement) was not that we had found a cure for DFTD, but that we had cured three out of five devils. The significance of this research, which is to be evaluated in combination with previous research, is that the devil’s immune system is capable of killing DFTD cancer cells. From our perspective, the major implication supports research towards a vaccine, our major goal. Although immunotherapy might be feasible with some devils, it would be impossible to undertake on a landscape scale. A point you clearly explained. It might be possible to attempt treatment of a few key/important devils, but this is not the immediate aim.
Our research does not reduce the importance of projects such as DevilArk. If anything, it increases the importance of DevilArk. My belief is that our goals and objectives are complementary. Devils need to be re-introduced into the wild to restore the ecological balance. This needs to be done with a genetically robust and diverse population of devils that are protected from DFTD. Our vaccine research is important for this latter point, protection from DFTD. If we can develop a safe and effective vaccine, then devils from the insurance population (including DevilArk) can be re-introduced into the Tasmanian wilderness. This is where research and conservation intersect.
With regards to ‘funded scientists’ - a couple of points of clarification. Most of the research in my group is performed by students who are studying for higher degrees. The few ‘funded scientists’ are supported from peer-reviewed and competitive national research grants (e.g. Australian Research Council). One of the expectations from these grants is to publicise important findings at both scientific and general public levels. We do not receive any direct funding from the state or federal governments. We are a ‘year by year’ proposition, totally reliant on success with research grant applications. This includes funds raised by the ’Save the Tasmanian Devil Appeal’, which allocates funds via a peer-reviewed and competitive process.
There is still an urgency to continue (and strengthen) conservation and research efforts to ensure that the future of the Tasmanian devil is secure. Public support is vital, now and into the future. There should be no misconception that conservation is no longer needed, it is more important than ever.
Keep up the great work Tim (and team of staff, volunteers and supporters).
Kind regards, Greg Woods University of Tasmania, Menzies Institute for Medical Research" ...