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Our study’s findings will be shared in an effort to increase clinical understanding of FP treatment.

Since the opening of our Sea Turtle Healing Center, our medical staff have dealt with several cases of the viral disease fibropapillomatosis, or FP, in our sea turtle patients. This now-common illness can become debilitating for sea turtles as it produces both internal and external tumors that can grow large enough to impact their ability to swim, their vision, and their ability to evade predators.  

While FP is not currently curable, certain treatments can be done to remove these impairing tumors. Surgery is the most common method of treatment. However, this procedure only eliminates the tumor and not the underlying cause, meaning tumor reappearance is frequent. It also excludes turtles that would not make for good surgical candidates due to other underlying health issues.  

With these concerns on the forefront of our veterinarians’ minds, our Healing Center decided to test out another form of care. With the help of the Sea Turtle Conservancy, our Healing Center purchased an electroporator. This specialized piece of equipment used for electrochemotherapy, or ECT, can make a huge impact on our patients’ rehabilitation journey.  

One of our veterinarians, Kyle Donnelly, has been fascinated with how this tool, used mostly as a treatment for domestic animals, can help her sea turtle patients. To learn more, the Healing Center began a study aiming to uncover how this technology can change the lives of affected sea turtles.  

The study is investigating the tumors’ response to treatment, the turtles’ immune response to treatment, as well as bleomycin levels in the blood. 

Some of our preliminary data suggests that ECT may result in a systemic immune response, making it a more permanent solution than surgery. 

Roadhouse the green sea turtle was a bit of a shell-ebrity around the Zoo after responding well to the ECT treatment. This sea turtle had severe tumors that greatly impacted his daily life and gave Roadhouse anemia. Using the ECT allowed us to avoid surgery and the risk of further blood loss while also shrinking down the tumors. Roadhouse went home to the ocean in July! 

Banana was another FP-affected green sea turtle that was not a possible surgical candidate due to a blood clotting disorder. Conducting surgery would have made blood loss during surgery a life-threatening problem. With ECT, Banana avoided surgery altogether, had the same tumor-free outcome and was released in May 

Currently, nine turtles have been given ECT treatment as part of the study, five of whom were able to be released. The others are still undergoing therapy.  

Kyle is hopeful about the ongoing data collection stating, “We are seeing promising results to treatment so far, with tumors responding well and decreasing in size.” 

When the study concludes, the findings will be shared with the greater scientific community in an effort to increase clinical understanding of FP treatment for sea turtles globally. Turtle-y awesome! 

Brevard Zoo is an independent, not-for-profit organization that receives no recurring government funding for our operating costs. Your generous support enables us to continue to serve our community and continue our vital animal wellness, education and conservation programs.