Cadmium-containing nanoparticles: perspectives on pharmacology and toxicology of quantum dots

Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 2009 Aug 1;238(3):280-8. doi: 10.1016/j.taap.2009.04.010. Epub 2009 Apr 18.


The field of nanotechnology is rapidly expanding with the development of novel nanopharmaceuticals that have potential for revolutionizing medical treatment. The rapid pace of expansion in this field has exceeded the pace of pharmacological and toxicological research on the effects of nanoparticles in the biological environment. The development of cadmium-containing nanoparticles, known as quantum dots, show great promise for treatment and diagnosis of cancer and targeted drug delivery, due to their size-tunable fluorescence and ease of functionalization for tissue targeting. However, information on pharmacology and toxicology of quantum dots needs much further development, making it difficult to assess the risks associated with this new nanotechnology. Further, nanotechnology poses yet another risk for toxic cadmium, which will now enter the biological realm in nano-form. In this review, we discuss cadmium-containing quantum dots and their physicochemical properties at the nano-scale. We summarize the existing work on pharmacology and toxicology of cadmium-containing quantum dots and discuss perspectives in their utility in disease treatment. Finally, we identify critical gaps in our knowledge of cadmium quantum dot toxicity, and how these gaps need to be assessed to enable quantum dot nanotechnology to transit safely from bench to bedside.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cadmium / pharmacokinetics
  • Cadmium / therapeutic use
  • Cadmium / toxicity*
  • Diagnostic Imaging / adverse effects
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Humans
  • Metal Nanoparticles*
  • Nanotechnology*
  • Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Particle Size
  • Quantum Dots*
  • Risk Assessment


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Cadmium