New studies indicate that the side population (SP) and cancer stem cells (CSC) drive and maintain many types of human malignancies. SP and CSC appear to be highly resistant to chemo- and radio-therapy and this knowledge is now reshaping our therapeutic approach to cancer. Several studies have pioneered the possibility of specifically targeting CSC and SP cells by exploiting pathways involved in drug resistance, or forcing these cells to proliferate and differentiate thus converting them into a target of conventional therapies. Moreover, certain cytokines - such as IFN-alpha - appear to modulate SP and stem cell functions, and this associates with remarkable therapeutic activity in animal models. These recent findings underscore the need of a more comprehensive view of the interactions between cytokines and key regulatory pathways in SP and CSC.
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