Iron Oxide Nanoparticles as Theranostic Agents in Cancer Immunotherapy

Nanomaterials (Basel). 2021 Jul 29;11(8):1950. doi: 10.3390/nano11081950.


Starting from the mid-1990s, several iron oxide nanoparticles (NPs) were developed as MRI contrast agents. Since their sizes fall in the tenths of a nanometer range, after i.v. injection these NPs are preferentially captured by the reticuloendothelial system of the liver. They have therefore been proposed as liver-specific contrast agents. Even though their unfavorable cost/benefit ratio has led to their withdrawal from the market, innovative applications have recently prompted a renewal of interest in these NPs. One important and innovative application is as diagnostic agents in cancer immunotherapy, thanks to their ability to track tumor-associated macrophages (TAMs) in vivo. It is worth noting that iron oxide NPs may also have a therapeutic role, given their ability to alter macrophage polarization. This review is devoted to the most recent advances in applications of iron oxide NPs in tumor diagnosis and therapy. The intrinsic therapeutic effect of these NPs on tumor growth, their capability to alter macrophage polarization and their diagnostic potential are examined. Innovative strategies for NP-based drug delivery in tumors (e.g., magnetic resonance targeting) will also be described. Finally, the review looks at their role as tracers for innovative, and very promising, imaging techniques (magnetic particle imaging-MPI).

Keywords: immunotherapy; iron oxide nanoparticles; magnetic particle imaging; magnetic resonance imaging.

Publication types

  • Review