Oncolytic virus as a cancer stem cell killer: progress and challenges
Oncolytic viruses (OVs), which were discovered more than one century ago, have been used in multiple clinical trials for cancer therapy. OVs specifically target cancer cells when sparing normal cells by exploiting biochemical differences between normal and tumor cells. Hence oncolytic virotherapy is more specific at targeting cancer cells compared with conventional anti-cancer therapy. Apart from the lack of specificity, conventional anti-cancer therapies also often witness relapse and incomplete cure of cancer. One hypothesis explaining this phenomenon is that a subpopulation of cancer cells, known as cancer stem cells (CSCs), are resistant to conventional therapies, possibly due to its self-renewal and differentiation abilities. With the discovery of CSCs, researchers have been trying to explain whether OVs are well suited to eliminate CSCs. Two explanations for postulating OVs as ideal candidates for cancer therapy have been proposed: first, OVs are not subject to the same mechanisms responsible for chemotherapy and radiation resistance; second, viruses could be harnessed to express therapeutic transgenes that specifically target the features unique to CSCs or the properties CSCs rely on for self-renewal and differentiation. Indeed, initial studies suggest that OVs could effectively target CSCs in multiple tumor types. The focus of this review is to highlight recent studies related to the application of OVs on targeting CSCs, based on which, the challenges and perspectives for further research in this field will also be discussed.