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Semin Radiat Oncol. 2009 Apr;19(2):87-95. doi: 10.1016/j.semradonc.2008.11.003.

Radiosensitivity of cancer-initiating cells and normal stem cells (or what the Heisenberg uncertainly principle has to do with biology).

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  • 1Department of Radiation Oncology, The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX 77005, USA.


Mounting evidence suggests that parallels between normal stem cell biology and cancer biology may provide new targets for cancer therapy. Prospective identification and isolation of cancer-initiating cells from solid tumors has promoted the descriptive and functional identification of these cells allowing for characterization of their response to contemporary cancer therapies, including chemotherapy and radiation. In clinical radiation therapy, the failure to clinically eradicate all tumor cells (eg, a lack of response, partial response, or nonpermanent complete response by imaging) is considered a treatment failure. As such, biologists have explored the characteristics of the small population of clonogenic cancer cells that can survive and are capable of repopulating the tumor after subcurative therapy. Herein, we discuss the convergence of these clonogenic studies with contemporary radiosensitivity studies that use cell surface markers to identify cancer-initiating cells. Implications for and uncertainties regarding incorporation of these concepts into the practice of modern radiation oncology are discussed.

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