Nanomaterials for cancer therapy: current progress and perspectives

J Hematol Oncol. 2021 May 31;14(1):85. doi: 10.1186/s13045-021-01096-0.


Cancer is a disease with complex pathological process. Current chemotherapy faces problems such as lack of specificity, cytotoxicity, induction of multi-drug resistance and stem-like cells growth. Nanomaterials are materials in the nanorange 1-100 nm which possess unique optical, magnetic, and electrical properties. Nanomaterials used in cancer therapy can be classified into several main categories. Targeting cancer cells, tumor microenvironment, and immune system, these nanomaterials have been modified for a wide range of cancer therapies to overcome toxicity and lack of specificity, enhance drug capacity as well as bioavailability. Although the number of studies has been increasing, the number of approved nano-drugs has not increased much over the years. To better improve clinical translation, further research is needed for targeted drug delivery by nano-carriers to reduce toxicity, enhance permeability and retention effects, and minimize the shielding effect of protein corona. This review summarizes novel nanomaterials fabricated in research and clinical use, discusses current limitations and obstacles that hinder the translation from research to clinical use, and provides suggestions for more efficient adoption of nanomaterials in cancer therapy.

Keywords: Blood–brain barrier; Cancer therapy; Drug delivery; Exosome; Nanomaterial; Protein corona; Tumor microenvironment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / administration & dosage
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Drug Delivery Systems
  • Humans
  • Nanomedicine*
  • Nanostructures / therapeutic use*
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Tumor Microenvironment


  • Antineoplastic Agents