Chemoresistance is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality in cancer and it continues to be a challenge in cancer treatment. Chemoresistance is influenced by genetic and epigenetic alterations which affect drug uptake, metabolism and export of drugs at the cellular levels. While most research has focused on tumor cell autonomous mechanisms of chemoresistance, the tumor microenvironment has emerged as a key player in the development of chemoresistance and in malignant progression, thereby influencing the development of novel therapies in clinical oncology. It is not surprising that the study of the tumor microenvironment is now considered to be as important as the study of tumor cells. Recent advances in technological and analytical methods, especially 'omics' technologies, has made it possible to identify specific targets in tumor cells and within the tumor microenvironment to eradicate cancer. Tumors need constant support from previously 'unsupportive' microenvironments. Novel therapeutic strategies that inhibit such microenvironmental support to tumor cells would reduce chemoresistance and tumor relapse. Such strategies can target stromal cells, proteins released by stromal cells and non-cellular components such as the extracellular matrix (ECM) within the tumor microenvironment. Novel in vitro tumor biology models that recapitulate the in vivo tumor microenvironment such as multicellular tumor spheroids, biomimetic scaffolds and tumor organoids are being developed and are increasing our understanding of cancer cell-microenvironment interactions. This review offers an analysis of recent developments on the role of the tumor microenvironment in the development of chemoresistance and the strategies to overcome microenvironment-mediated chemoresistance. We propose a systematic analysis of the relationship between tumor cells and their respective tumor microenvironments and our data show that, to survive, cancer cells interact closely with tumor microenvironment components such as mesenchymal stem cells and the extracellular matrix.
Keywords: angiogenesis; chemoresistance; clinical oncology; extracellular matrix; mesenchymal stem cells; tumor heterogeneity; tumor microenvironment.