Pluripotent stem cells (PSCs) attracted considerable interest with the successful isolation of embryonic stem cells (ESCs) from the inner cell mass of murine, primate and human embryos. Whilst it was initially thought that the only PSCs were ESCs, in more recent years cells with similar properties have been isolated from organs of the adult, including the breast and brain. Adult PSCs in these organs have been suggested to be remnants of embryonic development that facilitate normal tissue homeostasis during repair and regeneration. They share certain characteristics with ESCs, such as an inherent capacity to self-renew and differentiate into cells of the three germ layers, properties that are regulated by master pluripotency transcription factors (TFs) OCT4 (octamer-binding transcription factor 4), SOX2 (sex determining region Y-box 2), and homeobox protein NANOG. Aberrant expression of these TFs can be oncogenic resulting in heterogeneous tumours fueled by cancer stem cells (CSC), which are resistant to conventional treatments and are associated with tumour recurrence post-treatment. Further to enriching our understanding of the role of pluripotency TFs in normal tissue function, research now aims to develop optimized isolation and propagation methods for normal adult PSCs and CSCs for the purposes of regenerative medicine, developmental biology, and disease modeling aimed at targeted personalised cancer therapies.
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