MRS Bulletin

Technical Feature

Technical Feature

Magnetic Nanoparticles for Early Detection of Cancer by Magnetic Resonance Imaging

Wenbin Lin, Taeghwan Hyeon, Gregory M. Lanza, Miqin Zhang and Thomas J. Meade


This article provides a brief overview of recent progress in the synthesis and functionalization of magnetic nanoparticles and their applications in the early detection of malignant tumors by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The intrinsic low sensitivity of MRI necessitates the use of large quantities of exogenous contrast agents in many imaging studies. Magnetic nanoparticles have recently emerged as highly efficient MRI contrast agents because these nanometer-scale materials can carry high payloads while maintaining the ability to move through physiological systems. Superparamagnetic ferrite nanoparticles (such as iron oxide) provide excellent negative contrast enhancement. Recent refinement of synthetic methodologies has led to ferrite nanoparticles with narrow size distributions and high crystallinity. Target-specific tumor imaging becomes possible through functionalization of ferrite nanoparticles with targeting agents to allow for site-specific accumulation. Nanoparticulate contrast agents capable of positive contrast enhancement have recently been developed in order to overcome the drawbacks of negative contrast enhancement afforded by ferrite nanoparticles. These newly developed magnetic nanoparticles have the potential to enable physicians to diagnose cancer at the earliest stage possible and thus can have an enormous impact on more effective cancer treatment.

Wenbin Lin can be reached at the Department of Chemistry, CB#3290, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, USA; tel. 919–962–6320; fax 919–962–2388; e-mail; and

Lin is a professor of chemistry and molecular pharmaceutics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He received his BS degree in chemical physics from the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei in 1988 and his PhD degree in chemistry from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1994. His research focuses on designing novel supramolecular systems and hybrid nanomaterials for applications in chemical and life sciences. He has authored or co-authored more than 150 papers in several different research areas. Lin has been the recipient of the National Science Foundation CAREER Award (1999), the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Young Investigator Award (2000), the Research Corporation Cottrell Scholar Award (2000), the Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship (2000), and the Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award (2001).

Taeghwan Hyeon can be reached at Seoul National University, Korea; tel. 82–2–880–7150; fax 82–2–888–1604; and e-mail:

Hyeon received his BS (1987) and MS (1989) from the Seoul National University and his PhD from the University of Illinois (1996). Since he joined Seoul National University in 1997, his studies have focused on synthesis and biomedical applications of uniformsized nanocrystals and nanoporous materials. He has published more than 120 papers in prominent international journals and received several awards, including the Korean Young Scientist Award, the DuPont Science and Technology Award, and the POSCO T.J. Park Award. He is currently serving as an editorial board member of Advanced Materials, Chemical Communications, Chemistry of Materials, and Small.

Gregory M. Lanza can be reached at the Cardiovascular Division, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO, 63108, USA; tel: 314–454–8635; and e-mail:

Lanza is a professor of medicine and bioengineering at Washington University in St. Louis. He received his PhD from the University of Georgia School of Agriculture and joined the Monsanto Company in 1981. Lanza earned his MD degree in 1992 at Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago and developed expertise in ultrasonic imaging and patented the first acoustic molecular imaging agent. He completed residency in Internal Medicine and fellowship in Cardiology at Barnes-Jewish Hospital at Washington University School of Medicine. Lanza is a principal investigator of the NIH and is co-director of the Consortium for Translational Research in Advanced Imaging and Nanomedicine (C-TRAIN). He has more than 250 original publications, abstracts, and patents across multiple disciplines.

Miqin Zhang can be reached at the University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA; tel. 206–616–9356; and e-mail:

Zhang is a professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Washington (UW) and is an adjunct professor in the Departments of Neurological Surgery, Radiology, and Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in the UW School of Medicine. She received her PhD degree in materials science from the University of California at Berkeley in 1999. Zhang's research direc tions include nanotechnology for cancer diagnosis and therapy, tissue engineering for tis sue regeneration and controlled drug delivery, and cell-based sensors for toxin detection and drug screening.

Thomas J. Meade can be reached at Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208, USA ; tel. 847–491–2481; fax 847–491–3832; e-mail:

Meade received his BS degree in chemistry, his MS degree in biochemistry, and his PhD degree in inorganic chemistry. After completing a National Institutes of Health postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard Medical School, Meade was a postdoctoral fellow at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in the laboratory of Professor Harry B. Gray. In 1991, he joined the Division of Biology and the Beckman Institute at Caltech. Meade moved to Northwestern University in 2002. He is the Eileen Foell Chair in Cancer Research, a professor of chemistry, biochemistry and molecular and cell biology, neurobiology and physiology, and radio logy and is director of the Center for Advanced Molecular Imaging at Northwestern University. His research focuses on bioinorganic coordination chemistry and its application in research, which includes biological molecular imaging, electron transfer processes, and the development of electronic biosensors for the detection of DNA and proteins. Meade has received numerous awards and founded three biotech companies.