Scientists have made huge leaps in cancer research [picposedbymodel REUTERS]
Millions of cancer sufferers have been given fresh hope of a cure after ground-breaking research.
The breakthrough came in a 16-year study of the only animal immune to cancer.
The discovery by an Israeli specialist was last night hailed as "radical and potentially life-changing".
In a world first, Professor Aaron Avivi and his team found that cells from the blind mole rat and its cousin the naked mole rat secrete a substance that destroys cancer cells in mammals - including humans.
Experts think harvesting this substance and making it safe to digest could wipe out a disease that kills eight million people each year worldwide. Last night Prof Avivi, of Haifa University in Israel was heading to London where he is due to present his findings to professionals.
His radical approach studied the two species of rat that both live mostly underground - which the team discovered had led to a dramatic evolution of their metabolism.
Blind mole rats outlive other rodents by at least 20 years with no outward signs of ageing. Researchers have never located a cancerous tumour on one of them.
Millions of cancer sufferers are given fresh hope for a cure [picposedby model GETTY]
The team tested the underground rodents and regular mice and rats with two potent carcinogens. Ordinary mice and rats developed tumours - none was found in the subterranean rats.
The study, published in the widely respected BMC Biology Journal, concluded: "Blind mole rats are resistant to spontaneous cancer but also to experimentally induced cancer.
"It shows the unique ability of the blind mole rat to inhibit growth and kill cancer cells, but not normal cells. It has evolved efficient anti-cancer mechanisms.
"Exploring the molecular mechanisms may hold the key for understanding the nature of resistance to cancer and identify new strategies for treating humans."
The study was described as "exciting" by Prof Penella Woll, of the University of Sheffield's department of oncology. She said: "Other researchers have taken a similar approach, studying sea creatures with intrinsic cancer resistance to develop the anti-cancer drug trabectedin - so we know that this can succeed."
Cancer care specialist Prof Sam Ahmedzai said: "If Prof Avivi's research can help us identify what genetic changes have occurred in the blind mole rat – and if that knowledge can allow us to modify humans' genetic codes – then this is a radically and potentially life-saving treatment.
"There will undoubtedly be many years of extracting the relevant parts of the mole rats' genetic differences and then - the most difficult aspect - bringing those gene extracts into humans. Prof Avivi is to be congratulated on opening up an exciting new phase of research."
Oliver Childs, of Cancer Research UK, added: "It's a long way off, but it will be interesting to see if further research can find a way to help prevent or treat cancer in humans."
In Britain, nearly 350,000 people are diagnosed with cancer every year. Macmillan Cancer Support predicts the number who will get cancer during their lifetime will rise to nearly half the UK population by 2020. Other studies forecast global cancer rates will increase to 16 million new cases by the same year.