The race by North-East scientists to develop a completely new type of cancer treatment has received an important boost.

Scientists at the Northern Institute for Cancer Research are looking at ways to disable the defence mechanisms of tumour cells.

If they are successful it would allow existing cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy to work much more effectively and leave surrounding tissue unharmed.

Much of the work done at the Newcastle based institute is funded by the UK's largest cancer charity, Cancer Research UK.

But now the much smaller charity, Breast Cancer Campaign, has backed the work of the Newcastle scientists with a grant worth £136,000.

"We are already supporting four projects in Newcastle but this grant is the largest we have made so far in the North-East," a spokeswoman for Breast Cancer Campaign said.

Professor Herbie Newell, director of the institute, said: "This grant allows things to move forward faster and brings a breast cancer focus to the research. We are extremely grateful and very honoured to receive this funding."

Scientists at Newcastle believe they are on to a potential winner, although they are still some way off clinical trials.

"We still can't emphatically say it will work in patients but what we can now say is that we are assembling the tools we are going to need to safely test this out in a clinical setting," said Prof Newell. Instead of developing new treatment the institute's, indirect approach is to find a way of sabotaging the repair mechanism in cancer cells so conventional treatment can work more effectively.

The three year grant to Dr Michael Tilby and Dr Barbara Durkacz, is the latest contribution from the Breast Cancer Campaign, which is currently funding scientists at 19 centres to the tune of £3m. Hannah Davey, spokeswoman for the London-based Breast Cancer Campaign, said they are also looking to set up a North-East committee of fundraisers.

"We have supporters all around the country but we would like them to get together to form regional committees," said Ms Davey.

Anyone interested in getting involved should ring 0800 183 3700 for details.