SCIENTISTS are developing a vaccine to combat the deadly devil facial tumour disease after new research showed the cancerous cells are "undetectable".
Greg Woods, of the Menzies Research Institute, likened the cancer cells to Harry Potter's cloak of invisibility.
"We can now try to develop a vaccine to safeguard the devils against the disease - to make their immune systems realise the cancer cells need to be attacked," Professor Woods said.
"We can also make antibodies to target the tumour cells. It gives us an avenue to try something new.
"I'm positive we can induce a response. Whether that response is strong enough to remove the disease, only time will tell."
Previously, scientists believed that the spread of the disease was due to the devil's lack of genetic diversity preventing the immune system from recognising the tumour as foreign.
The Menzies team will now focus on removing the disguise, which would allow the devils' immune system to fight the disease.
The research was welcomed by Save the Tasmanian Devil Program director Howel Williams.
"While these results are important for understanding how to combat the disease at a biological level, the challenge is to ensure the species' survival in the wild," Dr Williams said.
"The program, along with its partners, has established an insurance population of more than 500 disease-free devils in captive breeding facilities throughout Australia, and in Devil Islands in Tasmania."
The potential breakthrough is the result of a partnership between the University of Tasmania's Menzies Research Institute and the School of Zoology, the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program, the University of Cambridge, the University of Sydney and the University of South Denmark.
The findings were published this week in a leading American biomedical journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The paper is titled "Reversible epigenetic down-regulation of MHC molecules by devil facial tumour disease".