Cancer nanotheranostics: Improving imaging and therapy by targeted delivery across biological barriers

Forrest M. Kievit, Miqin Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

454 Scopus citations


Cancer nanotheranostics aims to combine imaging and therapy of cancer through use of nanotechnology. The ability to engineer nanomaterials to interact with cancer cells at the molecular level can significantly improve the effectiveness and specificity of therapy to cancers that are currently difficult to treat. In particular, metastatic cancers, drug-resistant cancers, and cancer stem cells impose the greatest therapeutic challenge for targeted therapy. Targeted therapy can be achieved with appropriately designed drug delivery vehicles such as nanoparticles, adult stem cells, or T cells in immunotherapy. In this article, we first review the different types of nanotheranostic particles and their use in imaging, followed by the biological barriers they must bypass to reach the target cancer cells, including the blood, liver, kidneys, spleen, and particularly the blood-brain barrier. We then review how nanotheranostics can be used to improve targeted delivery and treatment of cancer cells. Finally, we discuss development of nanoparticles to overcome current limitations in cancer therapy. Cancer nanotheranostics seeks to improve cancer treatment by combining therapy with imaging through nanotechnology. Researchers are developing next-generation nanomedicines with multiple functionalities for bypassing biological barriers and targeted delivery of therapeutics to diseased cells in order to overcome current challenges in cancer therapy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)H217-H247
JournalAdvanced Materials
Issue number36
StatePublished - Sep 22 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • cancer stem cells
  • immunotherapy
  • metastasis
  • multidrug resistance
  • nanomedicine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Materials Science
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Mechanical Engineering


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