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Chemoresistance in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma: Overcoming resistance to therapy.

Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), a prominent cause of cancer deaths worldwide, is a highly aggressive cancer most frequently detected at an advanced stage that limits treatment options to systemic chemotherapy, which has provided only marginal positive clinical outcomes. More than 90% of patients with PDAC die within a year of being diagnosed. PDAC is increasing at a rate of 0.5-1.0% per year, and it is expected to be the second leading cause of cancer-related mortality by 2030. The resistance of tumor cells to chemotherapeutic drugs, which can be innate or acquired, is the primary factor contributing to the ineffectiveness of cancer treatments. Although many PDAC patients initially responds to standard of care (SOC) drugs they soon develop resistance caused partly by the substantial cellular heterogeneity seen in PDAC tissue and the tumor microenvironment (TME), which are considered key factors contributing to resistance to therapy. A deeper understanding of molecular mechanisms involved in PDAC progression and metastasis development, and the interplay of the TME in all these processes is essential to better comprehend the etiology and pathobiology of chemoresistance observed in PDAC. Recent research has recognized new therapeutic targets ushering in the development of innovative combinatorial therapies as well as enhancing our comprehension of several different cell death pathways. These approaches facilitate the lowering of the therapeutic threshold; however, the possibility of subsequent resistance development still remains a key issue and concern. Discoveries, that can target PDAC resistance, either alone or in combination, have the potential to serve as the foundation for future treatments that are effective without posing undue health risks. In this chapter, we discuss potential causes of PDAC chemoresistance and approaches for combating chemoresistance by targeting different pathways and different cellular functions associated with and mediating resistance.

Targeting KRAS in pancreatic cancer: Emerging therapeutic strategies.

KRAS, a predominant member of the RAS family, is the most frequently mutated oncogene in human pancreatic cancer (∼95% of cases). Mutations in KRAS lead to its constitutive activation and activation of its downstream signaling pathways such as RAF/MEK/ERK and PI3K/AKT/mTOR that promote cell proliferation and provide apoptosis evasion capabilities to cancer cells. KRAS had been considered 'undruggable' until the discovery of the first covalent inhibitor targeting the G12C mutation. While G12C mutations are frequently found in non-small cell lung cancer, these are relatively rare in pancreatic cancer. On the other hand, pancreatic cancer harbors other KRAS mutations such as G12D and G12V. The inhibitors targeting G12D mutation (such as MRTX1133) have been recently developed, whereas those targeting other mutations are still lacking. Unfortunately, KRAS inhibitor monotherapy-associated resistance hinders their therapeutic efficacy. Therefore, various combination strategies have been tested and some yielded promising results, such as combinations with receptor tyrosine kinase, SHP2, or SOS1 inhibitors. In addition, we recently demonstrated that the combination of sotorasib with DT2216 (a BCL-XL-selective degrader) synergistically inhibits G12C-mutated pancreatic cancer cell growth in vitro and in vivo. This is in part because KRAS-targeted therapies induce cell cycle arrest and cellular senescence, which contributes to therapeutic resistance, while their combination with DT2216 can more effectively induce apoptosis. Similar combination strategies may also work for G12D inhibitors in pancreatic cancer. This chapter will review KRAS biochemistry, signaling pathways, different mutations, emerging KRAS-targeted therapies, and combination strategies. Finally, we discuss challenges associated with KRAS targeting and future directions, emphasizing pancreatic cancer.

Heparan sulfate proteoglycans in cancer: Pathogenesis and therapeutic potential.

The heparan sulfate proteoglycans (HSPGs) are glycoproteins that consist of a proteoglycan "core" protein and covalently attached heparan sulfate (HS) chain. HSPGs are ubiquitously expressed in mammalian cells on the cell surface and in the extracellular matrix (ECM) and secretory vesicles. Within HSPGs, the protein cores determine when and where HSPG expression takes place, and the HS chains mediate most of HSPG's biological roles through binding various protein ligands, including cytokines, chemokines, growth factors and receptors, morphogens, proteases, protease inhibitors, and ECM proteins. Through these interactions, HSPGs modulate cell proliferation, adhesion, migration, invasion, and angiogenesis to display essential functions in physiology and pathology. Under physiological conditions, the expression and localization of HSPGs are finely regulated to orchestrate their physiological functions, and this is disrupted in cancer. The HSPG dysregulation elicits multiple oncogenic signaling, including growth factor signaling, ECM and Integrin signaling, chemokine and immune signaling, cancer stem cell, cell differentiation, apoptosis, and senescence, to prompt cell transformation, proliferation, tumor invasion and metastasis, tumor angiogenesis and inflammation, and immunotolerance. These oncogenic roles make HSPGs an attractive pharmacological target for anti-cancer therapy. Several therapeutic strategies have been under development, including anti-HSPG antibodies, peptides and HS mimetics, synthetic xylosides, and heparinase inhibitors, and shown promising anti-cancer efficacy. Therefore, much progress has been made in this line of study. However, it needs to bear in mind that the roles of HSPGs in cancer can be either oncogenic or tumor-suppressive, depending on the HSPG and the cancer cell type with the underlying mechanisms that remain obscure. Further studies need to address these to fill the knowledge gap and rationalize more efficient therapeutic targeting.

Tumor microenvironment interactions with cancer stem cells in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma.

Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is the most common type of pancreatic cancer in the United States. Additionally, the low survival rate makes PDAC the third-leading cause of cancer-related mortality in the United States, and it is projected that by 2030, it will become the second-leading cause of cancer mortality. Several biological factors contribute to PDAC aggressiveness, and their understanding will narrow the gap from biology to clinical care of PDAC, leading to earlier diagnoses and the development of better treatment options. In this review, we describe the origins of PDAC highlighting the role of cancer stem cells (CSC). CSC, also known as tumor initiating cells, which exhibit a unique metabolism that allows them to maintain a highly plastic, quiescent, immune- and therapy-evasive state. However, CSCs can exit quiescence during proliferation and differentiation, with the capacity to form tumors while constituting a small population in tumor tissues. Tumorigenesis depends on the interactions between CSCs and other cellular and non-cellular components in the microenvironment. These interactions are fundamental to support CSC stemness and are maintained throughout tumor development and metastasis. PDAC is characterized by a massive desmoplastic reaction, which result from the deposition of high amounts of extracellular matrix components by stromal cells. Here we review how this generates a favorable environment for tumor growth by protecting tumor cells from immune responses and chemotherapy and inducing tumor cell proliferation and migration, leading to metastasis formation ultimately leading to death. We emphasize the interactions between CSCs and the tumor microenvironment leading to metastasis formation and posit that better understanding and targeting of these interactions will improve patient outcomes.