There is increasing evidence that cancer is a stem cell disease. This study sought to isolate and characterise cancer stem cells from canine osteosarcoma. One human and three canine cell lines were cultured in non-adherent culture conditions using serum-starved, semi-solid media. Primitive sarcosphere colonies from all cell lines were identified under these conditions and were characterised using molecular and cytochemical techniques for embryonic stem cell markers. Expression of the embryonic stem cell-associated genes Nanog, Oct4 and STAT3 indicated a primitive phenotype. Sarcospheres could be reproduced consistently when passaged multiple times and produced adherent cell cultures when returned to normal growth conditions. Similarities between human and canine osteosarcoma cell lines add credence to the potential of the dog as a model for human disease. (C) 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.