A marker-free method for isolating cancer initiating cells is reported in a study published this week in Nature Methods.
Although there is controversy surrounding the nature of cancer stem cells, it is generally accepted that not all cells within tumors are equal and that some are more capable of initiating new tumors than others. Methods to identify such tumor-initiating cells and isolate them from primary tumors have implications for both basic and applied studies.
Ivan Radovanovic and colleagues use a nontraditional strategy to isolate cancer-initiating cells from human glioma. The standard approach for this purpose involves the use of protein markers expressed in the cells of interest, but the best currently available markers are not sufficiently specific. Radovanovic and colleagues instead show that glioma-initiating cells can be reproducibly isolated from human tumors based on the natural autofluorescence and shape of the cells.
Although the molecular basis of the autofluorescence of these cells is still under investigation, this approach should prove complementary to more standard strategies for isolating and studying glioma-initiating cells. Future work is likely to show if this strategy can be extended to other cancer stem cell populations as well.