Cancer Stem Cells and Glioblastoma

  • Petra Hamerlik


Gliomas are tumors of astroglial origin and the World health Organization (WHO) classifies them based on histological criteria into four grades of ascending malignancy. Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM, WHO grade IV) is among the most lethal of human cancers with conventional therapy offering only palliation. GBM accounts for the most frequent type of primary brain tumors in Europe and the USA, comprising more than a half of all gliomas, with a 5-year survival of patients of no more than 5 %. Despite concerted efforts and advances in currently available therapies, the expected survival of GBM patients remains dismal. Highly infiltrative character renders complete surgical resection impossible and together with notoriously known radio- and chemoresistance accounts for high recurrence rates and mortality of nearly 95 %. Traditionally, the approach to cancer treatment has been to eradicate all of the cancerous cells to achieve “cure” and was based on the idea that the vast majority of cells have tumorigenic potential. One reason for the lack of clinical advances is the lack of understanding of the GBM biology in general and the cellular origin of this disease in particular. The cancer stem cell hypothesis postulates that cancers contain a subset of highly aggressive cells that propagate and maintain the tumors through unlimited self-renewal and potent tumorigenicity. Within GBM, a distinct population of CD133+ cells has been documented to display stem cell properties in vitro, in particular self-renewal, unlimited proliferative potential, capacity for multi-lineage differentiation, and recapitulation of patient’s phenotype upon orthotopic implantation in immunocompromized host. The investigation and study of cancer stem cells received enormous attention over the past decade, yet it’s relevance to therapeutic resistance remains controversial. Although the cancer stem cell hypothesis may have multiple implications in therapeutic management of glioblastoma, as well as other brain tumor malignancies, caution must be exercised as targeting a rare population of tumorigenic cells without consideration of the largely heterogeneous tumor bulk comprised of proliferative cells may not change overall patient survival.


Heterogeneity Self-renewal Therapeutic resistance GBM Microenvironment 



ATP-binding cassette


Basic fibroblast growth factor


B lymphoma Mo-MLV insertion region 1 homolog


Cancer stem cell


DNA damage response


Epidermal growth factor


Glioblastoma multiforme


Ionizing radiation


Neural stem cell




Receptor tyrosine kinase


Sonic hedgehog




The cancer genome atlas


Tissue-initiating cell




Vascular endothelial cell growth factor


World Health Organization



The Danish Council for Independent Research/Medical Sciences ID4765/11-105457; Czech Ministry of Health (NT11065-5); Danish Cancer Research Society; NovoNordisk Foundation; Lundbeckfonden.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Wien 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Brain Tumor BiologyDanish Cancer Society Research CenterCopenhagenDenmark
  2. 2.Laboratory of Genome Integrity, Institute of Molecular and Translational MedicinePalacky UniversityOlomoucCzech Republic

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