Vincent Center for Reproductive Biology; Division of Gynecologic Oncology, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Massachusetts General Hospital.
Despite medical advances made over the past decade, ovarian cancer remains one of the more lethal gynecologic cancers in the United States. While current therapeutic strategies are relatively effective, there is a high incidence of recurrent chemoresistant disease. This has been attributed, in part, to a regenerative tumor cell sub-population that has acquired stem cell properties which allow these cells to escape standard chemotherapeutics and drive recurrent disease. To date, a number of laboratories have identified these cancer stem cell (CSC) sub-populations in ovarian cancer cell lines, tumors or ascites and the collective findings suggest ovarian CSC are likely to be as heterogeneous as the disease itself. Moreover, the multiple ovarian histophenotypes and possible sites of disease origin together with the potential for differential hierarchal contributions of multiple CSC populations represent significant challenges to the identification, functional characterization and therapeutic targeting of ovarian CSC. This review will highlight the markers and methodology currently used to identify and isolate these cells. We will discuss some of the underlying ovarian CSC biology, the signaling pathways implicated in their survival, replication and differentiation and potential therapeutic targeting strategies.