Targeting the leukemic stem cell: The Holy Grail of leukemia therapy

Academic Article


  • Since the discovery of leukemic stem cells (LSCs) over a decade ago, many of their critical biological properties have been elucidated, including their distinct replicative properties, cell surface phenotypes, their increased resistance to chemotherapeutic drugs and the involvement of growth-promoting chromosomal translocations. Of particular importance is their ability to transfer malignancy to non-obese diabetic-severe combined immunodeficient (NOD-SCID) mice. Furthermore, numerous studies demonstrate that acute myeloid leukemia arises from mutations at the level of stem cell, and chronic myeloid leukemia is also a stem cell disease. In this review, we will evaluate the main characteristics of LSCs elucidated in several well-documented leukemias. In addition, we will discuss points of therapeutic intervention. Promising therapeutic approaches include the targeting of key signal transduction pathways (for example, PI3K, Rac and Wnt) with small-molecule inhibitors and specific cell surface molecules (for example, CD33, CD44 and CD123), with effective cytotoxic antibodies. Also, statins, which are already widely therapeutically used for a variety of diseases, show potential in targeting LSCs. In addition, drugs that inhibit ATP-binding cassette transporter proteins are being extensively studied, as they are important in drug resistance - a frequent characteristic of LSCs. Although the specific targeting of LSCs is a relatively new field, it is a highly promising battleground that may reveal the Holy Grail of cancer therapy.
  • Published In

  • Leukemia  Journal
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Misaghian N; Ligresti G; Steelman LS; Bertrand FE; Bäsecke J; Libra M; Nicoletti F; Stivala F; Milella M; Tafuri A
  • Start Page

  • 25
  • End Page

  • 42
  • Volume

  • 23
  • Issue

  • 1