Researchers found that the Devil Facial Tumour – spread via biting – uses a complex protein mechanism to "hide" from the immune system. Picture: AP

London - A contagious tumour affecting Tasmanian devils could offer clues as to why the human immune system can sometimes fail to detect cancer.

Researchers found that the Devil Facial Tumour – spread via biting – uses a complex protein mechanism to "hide" from the immune system.

The team, including scientists from Cambridge and Southampton universities, believe their work could pave the way for new immunotherapy treatments – which use the body’s own immune system to fight the disease.

The study, published in journal Cancer Cell, looked at how some cancer cells avoid being detected by the immune system. 

The team compared cancer cells from humans, mice and devils and found that, in some, a group of proteins called PRC2 were blocking the MHC class I molecule – which would usually help immune cells identify and destroy cancer cells.

Lead author Dr Marian Burr, of the Peter MacCallum Centre in Melbourne, said: "This could contribute to some cancers becoming resistant to immunotherapies, and why [they] are not destroyed when transmitted between Tasmanian devils."

Daily Mail