Melanoma stem cells: targets for successful therapy?
ABSTRACT Increasing evidence suggests that cancer is a disease in which the persistence of the tumor relies on a small population of tumor-initiating cells, the so called tumor stem cells (TSC). Only these cells are capable of self-renewal and thereby possess the ability for unlimited proliferation. One reason for the inability of conventional tumor treatments to achieve long-term cures seems to be that TSC are resistant to many therapeutic approaches. A detailed characterization of TSC should have a substantial impact on the optimization of therapeutic protocols. While TSC in hematopoietic malignancies have been most intensively studied, subpopulations with stem cell properties have been identified in some solid tumors including breast carcinomas, gliomas and melanomas. In case of melanoma, however, a clear-cut molecular characterization is still pending. Considerable research is needed to establish standard procedures for the isolation of melanoma stem cells to facilitate determining how these cells, critical for tumor persistence and progression, can be effectively eliminated. A pressing question is if melanoma stem cells are in principle sensitive to immunotherapy.