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Elizabeth Murchison

Transmissible cancers

The Transmissible Cancer Group at the Department of Veterinary Medicine works on the genetics and evolution of transmissible cancers. There are only three known naturally occurring clonally transmissible cancers and these are the Tasmanian devil facial tumour disease (DFTD), the canine transmissible venereal tumour (CTVT) and the disseminated neoplasia of soft-shell clams. These cancers are transmitted between individuals by the transfer of living cancer cells. DFTD is transmitted between Tasmanian devils by biting and CTVT is spread between dogs during coitus. DFTD is threatening its host, the Tasmanian devil, with extinction. We use genetics, genomics and molecular biology to understand the origins, evolution and disease dynamics of the DFTD and CTVT clones. We also study genetic factors influencing host susceptibility, disease pathogenesis and treatment responses. We aim to understand how DFTD and CTVT have emerged and adapted to their hosts with the goal of developing DFTD and CTVT treatment options and using transmissible cancers to gain general insights into cancer evolution.

Key Publications

1. A second transmissible cancer in Tasmanian devilsPye RJ, Pemberton D, Tovar C, Tubio JMC, Dun KA, Fox S, Darby J, Hayes D, Knowles GW, Kreiss A, Siddle HVT, Swift K, Lyons AB, Murchison EP, Woods GM 2015 PNAS. pii: 201519691. PMID:26711993

2. The cancer which survived: insights from the genome of an 11 000 year-old cancer. Strakova A and Murchison EP 2015 . Current Opinion in Genetics and Development. 30:49-55. PMID:25867244

3. The changing global distribution and prevalence of canine transmissible venereal tumour. Strakova A and Murchison EP 2014. BMC Vet Res. Sept 3;10:168. PMID:25186078

4. Transmissible dog cancer genome reveals the origin and history of an ancient cell lineage. Murchison EP , Wedge DC , Alexandrov LB, Fu, B, Martincorena I, Ning Z, Tubio JMC, Werner EI, Allen J, Barboza de Nardi A, Donelan EM, Marino G, Fassati A, Campbell PJ, Yang F, Burt A, Weiss RA, Stratton MR 2014 Science. Jan 24;343(6169):437-40. PMID:24458646

5. Genome sequencing and analysis of the Tasmanian devil and its transmissible cancer. Murchison EP, Schulz-Trieglaff OB, Ning Z, Alexandrov LB, Bauer MJ, Fu B, Hims M, Ding Z, Ivakhno S, Stewart C, Ng BL, Wong W, Aken B, White S, Alsop A, Becq J, Bignell GR, Cheetham RK, Cheng W, Connor TR, Cox AJ, Feng ZP, Gu Y, Grocock RJ, Harris SR, Khrebtukova I, Kingsbury Z, Kowarsky M, Kreiss A, Luo S, Marshall J, McBride DJ, Murray L, Pearse AM, Raine K, Rasolonjatova I, Shaw R, Tedder P, Tregidgo C, Vilella AJ, Wedge DC, Woods GM, Gormley N, Humphray S, Schroth G, Smith G, Hall K, Searle SM, Carter NP, Papenfuss AJ, Futreal PA, Campbell PJ, Yang F, Bentley DR, Evers DJ, Stratton MR 2012  Cell. Feb 17;1484:780-91. PMID:22341448

For more publications, visit the Transmissible Cancer Group website. 


Dr Elizabeth Murchison

Reader in Comparative Oncology and Genetics

Group members: Andrea Strakova, Maire Lawlor, Maximilian Stammnitz, Young Mi Kwon, Adrian Baez-Ortega, Tracy Wang, Isobelle Bolton

Transmissible Cancer Group website

    Plain English

    We work on the genetics and evolution of transmissible cancers; these are cancers that can be transmitted between individuals by the transfer of living cancer cells.


    Wellcome Trust
    Leverhulme Trust
    Save the Tasmanian Devil Appeal
    National Science Foundation

    Elizabeth Murchison is currently accepting PhD student applications