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Stem Cells Dev. 2013 Aug 15;22(16):2221-39. doi: 10.1089/scd.2012.0613. Epub 2013 May 9.

Strategies for isolating and enriching cancer stem cells: well begun is half done.

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Institute of Pathology and Southwest Cancer Center, Southwest Hospital, Third Military Medical University, Chongqing, People's Republic of China.


Cancer stem cells (CSCs) constitute a subpopulation of cancer cells that have the potential for self-renewal, multipotent differentiation, and tumorigenicity. Studies on CSC biology and CSC-targeted therapies depend on CSC isolation and/or enrichment methodologies. Scientists have conducted extensive research in this field since John Dick's group successfully isolated CSCs based on the expression of the CD34 and CD38 surface markers. Progress in CSC research has been greatly facilitated by the enrichment and isolation of these cells. In this review, we summarize the current strategies used in our and other laboratories for CSC isolation and enrichment, including methods based on stem cell surface markers, intracellular enzyme activity, the concentration of reactive oxygen species, the mitochondrial membrane potential, promoter-driven fluorescent protein expression, autofluorescence, suspension/adherent culture, cell division, the identification of side population cells, resistance to cytotoxic compounds or hypoxia, invasiveness/adhesion, immunoselection, and physical property. Although many challenges remain to be overcome, it is reasonable to believe that more reliable, efficient, and convenient methods will be developed in the near future.

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