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Annu Rev Pathol. 2007;2:175-89.

Cancer stem cells: at the headwaters of tumor development.

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Program in Developmental Biology, Division of Neurosurgery, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.


According to the cancer stem cell hypothesis, only a subpopulation of cells within a cancer has the capacity to sustain tumor growth. This subpopulation of cells is made up of cancer stem cells, which are defined simply as the population of cells within a tumor that can self-renew, differentiate, and regenerate a phenocopy of the cancer when injected in vivo. Cancer stem cells have now been prospectively isolated from human cancers of the blood, breast, and brain, and putative cancer stem cells have been identified from human skin, bone, and prostate tumors and from multiple established mammalian cancer cell lines. Furthermore, researchers are actively seeking cancer stem cells in every human cancer type. We present the current scientific evidence supporting the cancer stem cell hypothesis and discuss the experimental and therapeutic implications of the discovery of human cancer stem cells.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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