Cancer is one of the leading causes of deaths worldwide. While cancers may initially show good response to chemotherapy or radiotherapy, it is not uncommon for them to recur at a later date. This phenomenon may be explained by the existence of a small population of cancer stem cells, which are inherently resistant to anti-cancer treatment as well as being capable of self-renewal. Therefore, while most of the tumour bulk consisting of cells that are not cancer stem cells respond to treatment, the cancer stem cells remain, leading to disease recurrence. Following this logic, the effective targeting of cancer stem cells holds promise for providing long-term cure in individuals with cancer. Cancer stem cells, like normal stem cells are endowed with mechanisms to protect themselves against a wide range of insults including anti-cancer treatments, such as the enhancement of the DNA damage response and the ability to extrude drugs. It is therefore important to develop new strategies if cancer stem cells are to be eradicated. In this review, we describe the strategies that we have developed to target cancer stem cells. These strategies include the targeting of the histone demethylase jumonji, AT rich interactive domain 1B (JARID1B), which we found to be functionally significant in the maintenance of cancer stem cells. Other strategies being pursued include reprogramming of cancer stem cells and the targeting of a functional cell surface marker of liver cancer stem cells, the aminopeptidase CD13.
2017 The Japan Academy