Affiliation: Scott-Ritchey Research Center, College of Veterinary Medicine, Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama 36849, USA.
Personalized medicine is critical for cancer patients, because (1) cancer is a highly heterogeneous disease with major molecular differences in the expression and distribution of tumor cell surface markers among patients with the same type and grade of cancer, (2) cellular mutations tend to accumulate as cancer progresses, further increasing tumor heterogeneity, and (3) currently used cancer therapies often are toxic to normal cells, causing severe side effects rarely seen in other diseases. To prevent side effects and to improve effectiveness, cytotoxic therapies should be targeted and each patient should be profiled for the presence of cancer targets before the therapy is administered. Phage display technology utilizes combinatorial libraries of proteins expressed on phage particles that can be selected for specific binding to cancer cells. Such cancer-specific molecules can be used in a variety of applications, including identification of cell-specific targeting molecules; identification of cell surface biomarkers; profiling of specimens obtained from individual cancer patients, and the design of peptide-based anti-cancer therapeutics for personalized treatments. This review is focused on peptide phage display strategies that target cell surfaces because many biomarkers important in cancer are differentially expressed molecules located on the outside of the cell membranes.