Published online Jul 28, 2014. doi: 10.4329/wjr.v6.i7.459
Revised: April 25, 2014
Accepted: May 16, 2014
Published online: July 28, 2014
Since the recognition of disease molecular basis, it has become clear that the keystone moments of medical practice, namely early diagnosis, appropriate therapeutic treatment and patient follow-up, must be approached at a molecular level. These objectives will be in the near future more effectively achievable thanks to the impressive developments in nanotechnologies and their applications to the biomedical field, starting-up the nanomedicine era. The continuous advances in the development of biocompatible smart nanomaterials, in particular, will be crucial in several aspects of medicine. In fact, the possibility of manufacturing nanoparticle contrast agents that can be selectively targeted to specific pathological cells has extended molecular imaging applications to non-ionizing techniques and, at the same time, has made reachable the perspective of combining highly accurate diagnoses and personalized therapies in a single theranostic intervention. Main developing applications of nanosized theranostic agents include targeted molecular imaging, controlled drug release, therapeutic monitoring, guidance of radiation-based treatments and surgical interventions. Here we will review the most recent findings in nanoparticles contrast agents and their applications in the field of cancer molecular imaging employing non-ionizing techniques and disease-specific contrast agents, with special focus on recent findings on those nanomaterials particularly promising for ultrasound molecular imaging and simultaneous treatment of cancer.
Core tip: The development of novel nanomaterials specifically targeting diseased cells has made possible their employment as nanosized contrast agents also for non-ionizing molecular imaging techniques namely, magnetic resonance, ultrasound and optical imaging. Among them, ultrasound imaging might represent the best choice because of its low cost, ease of use and wide availability in clinical practice. Unfortunately, their actual employment in molecular imaging is limited due to their low tissue contrast discrimination. Hence, the described development of novel ultrasound targeted contrast agent may play a crucial role for their use in clinical molecular imaging.