Identifying stem cells
How do scientists identify cancer stem cells?
Scientists use several techniques to identify cancer stem cells
Even under a microscope, there's no way to distinguish cancer stem cells from other malignant cells just by looking at them. To identify stem cells, scientists use specialized equipment to detect specific proteins on the cell's surface. These proteins are not found on regular cancer cells. A biochemical assay developed at the U-M Cancer Center can identify breast cancer stem cells.
The ultimate test to prove that cells are true cancer stem cells is to inject cells from a human tumor into mice that are genetically engineered to lack a cancer-fighting immune system. If the mouse does not get cancer, scientists know the injected cells were not stem cells, because ordinary tumor cells will divide a few times and then die. But if the mouse develops a tumor with the same types of cells as the human tumor, scientists know that the injected cells were true cancer stem cells.