Immune targeting of cancer stem cells in gastrointestinal oncology
The cancer stem cell (CSC) hypothesis postulates that a sub-population of quiescent cells exist within tumors which are resistant to conventional cytotoxic/anti-proliferative therapies. It is these CSCs which then seed tumor relapse, even in cases of apparent complete response to systemic therapy. Therefore, therapies, such as immunotherapy, which add a specific anti-CSC strategy to standard cytoreductive treatments may provide a promising new direction for future cancer therapies. CSCs are an attractive target for immune therapies since, unlike chemotherapy or radiotherapy, immune effector cells do not specifically require target cells to be proliferating in order to effectively kill them. Although recent advances have been made in the development of novel systemic and targeted therapies for advanced gastro-intestinal (GI) malignancies, there remains an unmet need for durable new therapies for these refractory malignancies. Novel immunotherapeutic strategies targeting CSCs are in pre-clinical and clinical development across the spectrum of the immune system, including strategies utilizing adaptive immune cell-based effectors, innate immune effectors, as well as vaccine approaches. Lastly, since important CSC functions are affected by the tumor microenvironment, targeting of both cellular (myeloid derived suppressor cells and tumorassociated macrophages) and sub-cellular (cytokines, chemokines, and PD1/PDL1) components of the tumor microenvironment is under investigation in the immune targeting of CSCs. These efforts are adding to the significant optimism about the potential utility of immunotherapy to overcome cancer resistance mechanisms and cure greater numbers of patients with advanced malignancy.