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According to the cancer stem cell (CSC) hypothesis, CSCs are the only cancer cells that can give rise to and sustain all cells that constitute a cancer as they possess inherent or acquired self-renewal potential, and their elimination is required and potentially sufficient to achieve a cure. Whilst establishing CSC identity remains challenging in most cancers, studies of low-intermediate risk myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS), other chronic myeloid malignancies and clonal haematopoiesis of indeterminant potential (CHIP) strongly support that the primary target cell usually resides in the rare haematopoietic stem cell (HSC) compartment. This probably reflects the unique self-renewal potential of HSCs in normal human haematopoiesis, combined with the somatic initiating genomic driver lesion not conferring extensive self-renewal potential to downstream progenitor cells. Mutational 'fate mapping' further supports that HSCs are the only disease-propagating cells in low-intermediate risk MDS, but that MDS-propagating potential might be extended to progenitors upon disease progression. The clinical importance of MDS stem cells has been highlighted through the demonstration of selective persistence of MDS stem cells in patients at complete remission in response to therapy. This implies that MDS stem cells might possess unique resistance mechanisms responsible for relapses following otherwise efficient treatments. Specific surveillance of MDS stem cells should be considered to assess the efficiency of therapies and as an early indicator of emerging relapses in patients in clinical remission. Moreover, further molecular characterization of purified MDS stem cells should facilitate identification and validation of improved and more stem cell-specific therapies for MDS.

Original publication




Journal article


J Intern Med

Publication Date





650 - 661


cancer stem cells, haematopoietic stem cells, myelodysplastic syndromes, Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic, Hematopoietic Stem Cells, Humans, Leukemia, Myeloid, Mutation, Myelodysplastic Syndromes, Neoplastic Stem Cells, Phenotype, Remission Induction, Risk Factors