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Cancer Stem Cells: The Emerging Challenge of Drug Targeting

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Stem cells are defined by their unique property to self-renew and starting from one single cell to generate all the different progenies required for tissue regeneration. In adults, stem cells are still present in the majority of tissues and organs where they are responsible for continuous organs and tissues homeostasis. Adult stem cells have been isolated in various tissues and all share common specific characteristics (localization in stem cell niches, drug transporter expression, adhesion, levels of apoptosis inhibitors, DNA methylation, …) involved in high levels of drug resistance of this specific cell subtype. Several studies have identified different populations of cancer cells, within the same tumor, some of them which present properties closely related to normal stem cells and raised the concept of cancer stem cells. Interestingly, the cell surface markers expressed by these particular cancer cells are the same as those expressed by normal stem cells, suggesting that cancer can arise in some cases from the malignant transformation of stem cells. The cancer stem cell (CaSC) model predicts that, even if “conventional” cancer cells can be killed by chemotherapy or radiotherapy, only the destruction of CaSC, considered responsible for relapse, will allow full recovery, thus demonstrating the importance of CaSCtargeting for patient outcome.

Therapeutic innovations will emerge from a better understanding of the biology and environment of cancer stem cells. The tumor environment can create a niche favoring the survival and proliferation of CaSC. It also protects CaSC from chemotherapy- induced apoptosis. Clinically, it is crucial to get rid of quiescent and resistant cells and to adapt the therapeutic strategy to cancer stem cells sheltered in niches. Here, we review the major characteristics of cancer stem cells and their behavior in response to chemotherapy; we also highlight the main issues to be considered for efficient and specific cancer stem cell targeting.
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Keywords: Cancer; extrinsic; intrinsic; microenvironment; resistance; self-renewal; signaling; stem cells

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Inserm, U590 Centre Leon Berard, 28 Rue Laennec, 69373 Lyon Cedex 08, France.

Publication date: 2009-02-01

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  • Current Medicinal Chemistry covers all the latest and outstanding developments in medicinal chemistry and rational drug design. Each issue contains a series of timely in-depth reviews written by leaders in the field covering a range of the current topics in medicinal chemistry. Current Medicinal Chemistry is an essential journal for every medicinal chemist who wishes to be kept informed and up-to-date with the latest and most important developments.
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