Heat shock proteins expressed in the marsupial Tasmanian devil are potential antigenic candidates in a vaccine against devil facial tumour disease

The Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii), the largest extant carnivorous marsupial and endemic to Tasmania, is at the verge of extinction due to the emergence of a transmissible cancer known as devil facial tumour disease (DFTD). DFTD has spread over the distribution range of the species and has been responsible for a severe decline in the global devil population. To protect the Tasmanian devil from extinction in the wild, our group has focused on the development of a prophylactic vaccine. Although this work has shown that vaccine preparations using whole DFTD tumour cells supplemented with adjuvants can induce anti-DFTD immune responses, alternative strategies that induce stronger and more specific immune responses are required. In humans, heat shock proteins (HSPs) derived from tumour cells have been used instead of whole-tumour cell preparations as a source of antigens for cancer immunotherapy. As HSPs have not been studied in the Tasmanian devil, this study presents the first characterisation of HSPs in this marsupial and evaluates the suitability of these proteins as antigenic components for the enhancement of a DFTD vaccine. We show that tissues and cancer cells from the Tasmanian devil express constitutive and inducible HSP. Additionally, this study suggests that HSP derived from DFTD cancer cells are immunogenic supporting the future development of a HSP-based vaccine against DFTD.