The Devil Immunology Group (DIg)

The aim of the group is to develop immune based approaches to combat devil facial tumour disease (DFTD), which currently threatens the survival of this iconic Tasmanian species.

The group aims to understand how DFTD, as an infectious allograft, manages to avoid immune recognition and elimination by the infected host. From this we aim to develop improved vaccine candidates able to protect devils exposed to DFTD from developing this fatal disease.


  • Vaccine development
  • Cellular immunology
  • Flow cytometric analysis
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Field work and devil handling
  • Proteomics
  • RNAseq
  • Bioinformatics


Development of cell free vesicle-based vaccines.

We hypothesise that the small size and lack of infectivity of DFT cell membrane derived vesicles will be advantageous in a vaccine, resulting in activation of the cell mediated immune response necessary for cancer elimination.

Assessment of cell mediated immunity of devils.

We have recently obtained a devil specific anti-CD8 antibody which will allow us to characterise the cell mediated arm of the devil immune response. Wild devils will be assessed for the ability to produce IFN-gamma, a classical cytokine associated with this type of immunity, in response to DFT cells or antigens in vitro.

Immunomodulatory activity of DFTD derived exosomes and utility as a biomarker of disease status.

Initial experiments suggest that DFT cells, in common with other cancers, produce cell membrane derived microparticles. These will be assessed for their capacity to modify immune responses and their utility as a biomarker for early disease detection.

Candidate vaccine trials and monitoring.

In conjunction with the state government, we will continue trialling our candidate vaccines by immunising devils destined for release back into the wild as part of population reinforcement efforts. Our studies so far indicate that most devils develop immune responses against DFT. The challenge now is to improve the candidate vaccine to develop protective immunity.

The role of MHC-I type in DFTD rejection.

There have been several confirmed regressions of tumours in the wild, as well as our immunotherapy trial resulting in tumour rejection in around 50% of devils. As MHC-I is responsible for graft rejection, we aim to examine full sequences of the MHC-I of host devils to determine if rejection is more likely in devils not sharing MHC-I identity with that encoded by DFT cells.

Group Leader(s)


Biomedical Sciences

School of Medicine (Lyons/Woods)

Menzies Institute for Medical Research (Woods)



Group members

  • Dr Amanda Patchett
  • Dr Ruth Pye (jointly with Wild Immunology Group)
  • Ms Jocelyn Darby (jointly with Wild Immunology Group)
  • Ms Camila Espejo
  • Ms Alana De Luca (jointly with Wild Immunology Group)

The DIg collaborates closely with the Wild Immunology group of Menzies DECRA fellow Dr Andy Flies.