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Trends Pharmacol Sci. 2011 Aug;32(8):487-94. doi: 10.1016/ Epub 2011 Apr 27.

Pharmacogenomics and cancer stem cells: a changing landscape?

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Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Pharmacology, University of Pisa, Pisa, Italy.


Pharmacogenomics in oncology holds the promise to personalize cancer therapy. However, its clinical application is still limited to a few genes, and, in the large majority of cancers, the correlation between genotype and clinical outcome has been disappointing. One possible explanation is that current pharmacogenomic studies do not take into account the emerging role of cancer stem cells (CSCs) in drug sensitivity and resistance. CSCs are a subpopulation of cells driven by specific signal-transduction pathways, but genetic variants affecting their activity are generally neglected in current pharmacogenomic studies. Moreover, in several malignancies, CSCs represent a rare sub-population; therefore, whole tumor profiling might mask CSC gene expression patterns. This article reviews current evidence on CSC chemoresistance and shows how common genetic variations in CSC-related genes may predict individual response to anti-cancer agents. Furthermore, we provide insights into the design of pharmacogenomic studies to address the clinical usefulness of CSC genetic profiling.

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