Cancer stem cells (CSC) have been identified in several types of cancer, including leukemia. While CSC are key to the progression of cancer and can be resistant to chemotherapeutic drugs, Leukemia stem cells (LSC) are also resistant to most treatments, such as radiotherapy and chemotherapy. LSC are also considered the main cause of drug resistance and disease relapse. There has long been a need for methods of identifying and isolating LSC from an individual or cell culture. LSCs have been successfully identified and characterized in certain types of leukemia, such as AML; however, whether LSC exist in acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), the most common childhood leukemia, is unknown as no distinct phenotypic LSC marker has been identified.
Researchers at the University of California, Davis have developed methods for identifying LSC in B-cell type ALL using fluorescent tagged metabolites. These methods can also be used to identify a subpopulation of LSC within a sample. Additionally, these methods have potential applications in the development of LSC-targeted therapeutics and can be used in drug screening methods or experimental analysis to determine or predict disease progression, relapse, and/or the development of disease resistance. LSC stem cells can also be characterized based on the expression of LSC markers and therefore can be used to identify populations of LSC.