Despite recent advances, treatment of leukemia is often not curative. New insights indicate that this may be attributable to a small population of therapy-resistant malignant cells with self-renewal capacity and the ability to generate large numbers of more differentiated leukemia cells. These leukemia-initiating cells are commonly referred to as Leukemia Stem Cells (LSCs). LSCs are regarded as the root of leukemia origin and leukemia recurrence after seemingly successful therapy. Not surprisingly therefore, contemporary leukemia research has focused on ways to specifically eliminate LSCs, leading to the identification of several promising anti-LSC strategies. Firstly, LSCs may be eliminated by antibody- or ligand-based cell surface delivery of therapeutics such as naked antibodies, immunotoxins, and immunocytokines. This approach exploits LSC-associated surface antigens, such as CD33, CD44, CD96, CD123 and CLL-1 for LSC-selective therapy and aims to spare normal hematopoietic stem cells. A second strategy aims to disrupt the interactions between LSCs and their highly specialized niche. These interactions appear to be pivotal for maintenance of the stem cell-like characteristics of LSCs. A third strategy centers on the selective modulation of aberrantly activated signaling pathways central to LSC biology. A fourth strategy, dubbed ‘epigenetic reprogramming’, aims to selectively reverse epigenetic alterations that are implicated in ontogeny and maintenance of LSCs. In this review, we will discuss the rationale for these LSCs-targeted strategies and highlight recent advances that may ultimately help pave the way towards selective LSCs-elimination.
Keywords: Leukemia stem cells, AML, CML, targeting, apoptosis, antibody, epigenetics, Pregnancy, infliximab, adalimumab, certolizumab pegol, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, inflammatory bowel disease