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SYDNEY, March 10 (Xinhua) -- Scientists have successfully treated the cancer which nearly wiped out the iconic Tasmanian devil for the first time.

In a global effort led by the University of Tasmania (UTAS), scientists injected live cancer cells into devils with devil facial tumour disease (DFTD) to make their immune system recognize the disease and fight it off.

Researchers are hopeful that the breakthrough will speed-up the development of a potential vaccine.

Greg Woods, a professor immunology at UTAS, said the team was effectively "fighting cancer with cancer."

"We used the cancer cells, cultured them in a laboratory, and made them express genes that made them become visible to the devils' immune systems," Woods told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) on Friday.

"The first devil we had, we tried a few things, the tumour got bigger and then we got desperate, which is why we added the live (cancer) cells.

"And when we saw the tumour get smaller, it was so exciting."

The research marks the first time that the shrinking of the cancer can be attributed to immunology.

Since it was first discovered 20 years ago DFTD has decimated the devil population, killing as much as 95 per cent of the population.

Greg Irons, director of the Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary, said the breakthrough should be treated as a safety net.

"The ideal solution for devils is to fight the disease off themselves in the wild and recover on their own, but for that they may need assistance," Irons said.

"What is needed is an army of options in the background if they're required."

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