Genetic and epigenetic heterogeneity in cancer: the ultimate challenge for drug therapy

Curr Drug Targets. 2010 Oct;11(10):1304-16. doi: 10.2174/1389450111007011304.


Based on the gene and pathway centric concept of cancer, current approaches to cancer drug treatment have been focused on key molecular targets specific and essential for cancer progression and drug resistance. This approach appears promising in many experimental models but unfortunately has not worked well in the vast majority of cancers in clinical settings. Many new proposals, based on the same rationale of identifying a "magic bullet" are emerging now that target the epigenetic level as well as some other new targets including metabolic regulation, genetic instability and tumor environments. In spite of the optimism resulting from these new approaches there is still a key challenge that remains regarding cancer drug therapy in the form of multiple levels of genetic and epigenetic heterogeneity. Using the recently formulated genome theory, the importance of bio-heterogeneity and its complex relationships between different levels has been discussed and in particular, the concept and methods used to monitor and target genome level heterogeneity. By briefly mentioning some newly introduced treatment options, this review further discusses the common challenges for the field as well as possible future directions of research.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Drug Delivery Systems
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Genome
  • Humans
  • Mutation
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / genetics


  • Antineoplastic Agents