Eye drops shrink tumors in endangered green sea turtles

Anticancer medication helping sea turtles get a second chance at sight

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MIAMI - A cutting edge anticancer medication used for humans is helping sea turtles get a second chance at sight.

Shell-covered patients fill the pools at the turtle hospital in Marathon -- all in need of life-saving care.

"When an animal is an endangered species, each one is so precious," said Rich Moretti, the man who started the nonprofit center nearly 30 years ago. "We look at each turtle. That turtle might make a difference whether your grandchildren ever get to see turtles. It's pretty amazing that we're able to find new things all the time with these turtles."

The new thing they just found? An anti-cancer medication that's used in chemotherapy for humans, made in in eye drops for the turtles.


"This isn't going to be painful, this might save you," Moretti said as he gave a dose of the eye drops to the turtle.

The drops are used to shrink eye tumors in endangered green sea turtles.

"We take pictures of the progress," Moretti said.

Fifty percent of the endangered green sea turtles are affected by the fibropapiloma virus, which attacks the soft tissue.

"Whatever they're getting is breaking down their immunity, so they're not resistant to this virus," said Moretti. "So possibly pollution? Possibly."

Moretti said every turtle receives the eye drops every day, but one turtle in particular, Hook, has been the pioneer of the new medication, starting the drops six weeks ago, and his tumors are shrinking.

The turtle rehab specialists joined forces with a vet ophthalmologist to design the eye prescription.

Moretti said he is amazed by what the eye drops are doing to help the turtles.

"They really have nothing to lose and everything to gain, so were very hopeful," Moretti said

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