From which cell does cancer arise? What defines the cancer stem cell? By their nature, cancer cells share properties of stem cells such as the ability to self-renew, and frequently the malignant cells will be derived from the stem or progenitor population for a particular cellular differentiation system. One of the most well-defined of these systems is haematopoiesis, the generation of all blood cells from ultimately a small pool of true stem cells, residing in adult bone marrow. Haematological malignancies are comprised of a few key groups, the chronic and acute leukaemias (cancer of white cells), lymphomas (solid tumours of the lymphatic system, most commonly of B lymphocytes), myeloma (tumour of plasma cells) and a range of pre-malignant proliferative disorders, all of which are characterised by a population of clonally derived blood cells, which can be tracked by mutations where these might be known.
In recent years, therapies for many of these conditions have switched from cellular sledgehammers that try to kill off cells that are rapidly dividing, to those that are specifically designed to target cells containing certain mutations or biological properties. This unit looks at how these therapies affect 'leukaemia stem cells' and how this can be tracked.