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Keywords:

  • cancer stem cells;
  • progenitor cells;
  • stem cell markers;
  • clonal evolution;
  • therapy resistance

Abstract

In recent years, an exponentially growing number of studies have focused on identifying cancer stem cells (CSC) in human malignancies. The rare CSCs could be crucial in controlling and curing cancer: through asymmetric division CSCs supposedly drive tumor growth and evade therapy with the help of traits shared with normal stem cells such as quiescence, self-renewal ability, and multidrug resistance pump activity. Here, we give a brief overview of techniques used to confirm the stem cell-like behavior of putative CSCs and discuss markers and methods for identifying, isolating, and culturing them. We touch on the limitations of each marker and why the combined use of CSC markers, in vitro and in vivo assays may still fail to identify all relevant CSC populations. Finally, the various experimental findings supporting and contradicting the CSC hypothesis are summarized. The large number of tumor types thus far with a subpopulation of uniquely tumorigenic and therapy resistant cells suggests that despite the unanswered questions and inconsistencies, the CSC hypothesis has a legitimate role to play in tumor biology. At the same time, experimental evidence supporting the established alternative theory of clonal evolution can be found as well. Therefore, a model that describes cancer initiation and progression should combine elements of clonal evolution and CSC theory. © 2008 International Society for Advancement of Cytometry