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Circumstantial evidence suggests that most tumours are heterogeneous and contain a small population of cancer stem cells (CSCs) that exhibit distinctive self-renewal, proliferation and differentiation capabilities, which are believed to play a crucial role in tumour progression, drug resistance, recurrence and metastasis in multiple malignancies. Given that the existence of CSCs is a primary obstacle to cancer therapy, a tremendous amount of effort has been put into the development of anti-CSC strategies, and several potential approaches to kill therapeutically-resistant CSCs have been explored, including inhibiting ATP-binding cassette transporters, blocking essential signalling pathways involved in self-renewal and survival of CSCs, targeting CSCs surface markers and destroying the tumour microenvironment. Meanwhile, an increasing number of therapeutic agents (e.g. small molecule drugs, nucleic acids and antibodies) to selectively target CSCs have been screened or proposed in recent years. Drug delivery technology-based approaches hold great potential for tackling the limitations impeding clinical applications of CSC-specific agents, such as poor water solubility, short circulation time and inconsistent stability. Properly designed nanocarrier-based therapeutic agents (or nanomedicines) offer new possibilities of penetrating CSC niches and significantly increasing therapeutic drug accumulation in CSCs, which are difficult for free drug counterparts. In addition, intelligent nanomedicine holds great promise to overcome pump-mediated multidrug resistance which is driven by ATP and to decrease detrimental effects on normal somatic stem cells. In this review, we summarise the distinctive biological processes related to CSCs to highlight strategies against inherently drug-resistant CSCs. We then focus on some representative examples that give a glimpse into state-of-the-art nanomedicine approaches developed for CSCs elimination. A perspective on innovative therapeutic strategies and the potential direction of nanomedicine-based CSC therapy in the near future is also presented. Copyright © 2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.


Song Shen, Jin-Xing Xia, Jun Wang. Nanomedicine-mediated cancer stem cell therapy. Biomaterials. 2016 Jan;74:1-18

PMID: 26433488

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