MARATHON (CBSMiami/FKNB) – A groundbreaking alternative procedure used to treat tumors on sea turtles was performed at the Florida Keys-based Turtle Hospital Saturday, in partnership with researchers from the University of Florida.
The electrochemotherapy treatments, the first of their kind in the United States, are part of a pilot study being conducted on green sea turtles with fibropapilloma, cauliflower-like tumor growths that develop as a result of a herpes-like virus affecting many sea turtles around the world.
The virus does not affect humans.
Researchers want to help get these growths under better under control because green sea turtles are a threatened species. Traditionally, the tumors have been surgically removed, but the surgery is more complicated and stressful for infected turtles.
“We came down to the Florida Keys to help here at the Marathon Turtle Hospital with a groundbreaking treatment,” said Dr. Anna Szivek, assistant professor of oncology at the veterinary college of University of Florida. “The type of treatment we’re doing is called electrochemotherapy, and the nice thing with it, it’s much less invasive than a surgical removal.”
Szivek added the treatment involves short, low-level electric pulses that allow the cells to open and better absorb the chemo medication, commonly used in cancer treatment.
“We are able to kind of kill the tumor from within and have the tumor shrink and then kind of fall off,” she said.
Szivek and other turtle experts treated two green sea turtles, nicknamed Percy and Daley. They are to remain onsite at the Turtle Hospital over several months to ensure the tumors are shrinking and fall off.
The Turtle Hospital in the Florida Keys has been rescuing, rehabilitating and returning turtles to the wild for over 30 years, including assisting scores of hatchlings gone astray after exiting their nests as well.
Opened in September of 1986 as the world’s first state licensed veterinary sea turtle hospital, the facility is equipped with three turtle ambulances for patient transport.
The Florida Keys News Bureau contributed to this report.