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Semin Hematol. 2009 Jan;46(1):33-8. doi: 10.1053/j.seminhematol.2008.09.010.

Leukemia stem cells and human acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

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Division of Hematology/Oncology, Children's Hospital, and Department of Pediatric Oncology, Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02115, USA.


Leukemias and other cancers have been proposed to contain a subpopulation of cells that display characteristics of stem cells and maintain tumor growth. The fact that most anticancer therapy is directed against the bulk of the tumor, and possibly spares the cancer stem cells, may lie at the heart of treatment failures with conventional modalities. Leukemia stem cells are fairly well described for acute myeloid leukemia (AML), but their existence and relevance for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is less clear. Several reports describe subpopulations with primitive phenotypes in clinical ALL samples. However, it has also been suggested that the majority of leukemic subfractions can propagate leukemia in the appropriate experimental setting, and that their hierarchical organization is less strict than in AML. In addition, it is uncertain whether cancer stem cells arise from malignant transformation of a tissue-specific stem cell, or from committed progenitors or differentiated cells that re-acquire a stem cell-like program. In common childhood ALL, current evidence points towards the cell of origin being a committed lymphoid progenitor. In this review, we highlight recent findings relating to the question of leukemia stem cells in ALL.

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