In vitro models §


  • Author contributions: JPM did research and writing.

  • Disclosure of potential conflicts of interest is found at the end of this article.

  • §

    First published online in STEM CELLSEXPRESS November 10, 2011.


The current resurgence of interest in the cancer stem cell (CSC) hypothesis as possibly providing a unifying theory of cancer biology is fueled by the growing body of work on normal adult tissue stem cells and the promise that CSC may hold the key to one of the central problems of clinical oncology: tumor recurrence. Many studies suggest that the microenvironment plays a role, perhaps a seminal one, in cancer development and progression. In addition, the possibility that the stem cell-like component of tumors is capable of rapid and reversible changes of phenotype raises questions concerning studies with these populations and the application of what we learn to the clinical situation. These types of questions are extremely difficult to study using in vivo models or freshly isolated cells. Established cell lines grown in defined conditions provide important model systems for these studies. There are three types of in vitro models for CSCs: (a) selected subpopulations of existing tumor lines (derived from serum-containing medium; (b) creation of lines from tumor or normal cells by genetic manipulation; or (c) direct in vitro selection of CSC from tumors or sorted tumor cells using defined serum-free conditions. We review the problems associated with creating and maintaining in vitro cultures of CSCs and the progress to date on the establishment of these important models. STEM CELLS 2012; 30:95–99.