Cancer Stem Cells, EMT, and Developmental Pathway Activation in Pancreatic Tumors

Sanne Hindriksen, Maarten F Bijlsma
Cancers 2012, 4 (4): 989-1035
Pancreatic cancer is a disease with remarkably poor patient survival rates. The frequent presence of metastases and profound chemoresistance pose a severe problem for the treatment of these tumors. Moreover, cross-talk between the tumor and the local micro-environment contributes to tumorigenicity, metastasis and chemoresistance. Compared to bulk tumor cells, cancer stem cells (CSC) have reduced sensitivity to chemotherapy. CSC are tumor cells with stem-like features that possess the ability to self-renew, but can also give rise to more differentiated progeny. CSC can be identified based on increased in vitro spheroid- or colony formation, enhanced in vivo tumor initiating potential, or expression of cell surface markers. Since CSC are thought to be required for the maintenance of a tumor cell population, these cells could possibly serve as a therapeutic target. There appears to be a causal relationship between CSC and epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) in pancreatic tumors. The occurrence of EMT in pancreatic cancer cells is often accompanied by re-activation of developmental pathways, such as the Hedgehog, WNT, NOTCH, and Nodal/Activin pathways. Therapeutics based on CSC markers, EMT, developmental pathways, or tumor micro-environment could potentially be used to target pancreatic CSC. This may lead to a reduction of tumor growth, metastatic events, and chemoresistance in pancreatic cancer.

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