Emerging evidence suggests that stem cells play a crucial role not only in the generation and maintenance of different tissues, but also in the development and progression of malignancies. For the many solid cancers, it has now been shown that they harbor a distinct subpopulation of cancer cells that bear stem cell features and therefore, these cells are termed cancer stem cells (CSC) or tumor-propagating cells. CSC are exclusively tumorigenic and essential drivers for tumor progression and metastasis. Moreover, it has been shown that pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma does not only contain one homogeneous population of CSC rather than diverse subpopulations that may have evolved during tumor progression. One of these populations is called migrating CSC and can be characterized by CXCR4 co-expression. Only these cells are capable of evading the primary tumor and traveling to distant sites such as the liver as the preferred site of metastatic spread. Clinically even more important, however, is the observation that CSC are highly resistant to chemo- and radiotherapy resulting in their relative enrichment during treatment and rapid relapse of disease. Many laboratories are now working on the further in-depth characterization of these cells, which may eventually allow for the identification of their Achilles heal and lead to novel treatment modalities for fighting this deadly disease.
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