Cancer Institute A national cancer institute
designated cancer center

Discovery of Cancer Stem Cells

Cell Sorter Technology

Researchers identify cancer stem cells using a fluorescence activated cell sorter (FACS). This technology was invented by Stanford professor Leonard Herzenberg in the late 1960s.


Building on the pioneering efforts of Stanford scientists in the isolation and study of normal and cancer stem cells, the Cancer Stem Cell Research Program is today at the epicenter of the ongoing hunt for cancer stem cells.

Stanford scientists were the first to discover and isolate human leukemia and human breast cancer stem cells. Their efforts are now close to isolating stem cells for brain cancer, ovarian cancer, melanoma and bladder cancer.

By isolating a pure population of stem cells for each cancer type, program researchers aim to explore the genetic mutations that cause these cells to act abnormally and to use this understanding to develop new drugs that target and destroy these master cancer cells.

These new drugs are expected to offer significant advances over current treatments. For instance, while chemotherapy and other established strategies destroy most tumor cells, they do not specifically eliminate the source of the cancer—the cancer stem cells—thereby setting the stage for a relapse.

Program Researchers

Michael Clarke

Irving Weissman

Jason Gotlib

Harcharan Gill

Griffith Harsh

Stephen Huhn

Amreen Husain

Larry Recht

Michael Edwards, MD

Judith Shizuru

Karl Sylvester

Linda Shortliffe

Michael Kaplan

Stephen Skirboll

Samuel So

Victor Tse

Hannes Vogel

Glenn Rosen, MD

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