The use of nanomaterials in medicine holds promising potential in emerging applications of diagnostic imaging and offers excellent prospects for the development of new tailored and targeted cancer therapies. Nanomaterials offer potential advantages over conventional drugs as they might be used as non-invasive tools and have the capacity to combine multiple modalities on one probe. This allows for higher sensitivity and deeper insight into in vivo processes.

The combination of multiple modalities on nanomaterials makes them ideally suited as drug-delivery systems, allowing for possible new diagnostic therapy on an individual basis (theranostics). Nanomaterials decorated with special functionalities allow different types of molecular imaging, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), positron emission tomography (PET), computed tomography (CT), single-photon emission tomography (SPECT), ultrasound imaging, and optical imaging methods. Furthermore, independent populations of nanoparticles functionalized with different biomarker-responsive molecules offer new strategies for the simultaneous detection of a set of signals as well as more accurate diagnosis.

Nanomaterials are also exploitable across a range of cancer therapies, including chemotherapy, photodynamic therapy, thermal therapy, magneto-therapy, and neutron capture therapy. Different types of decorated functionalities on nanoparticles might allow a combination of these therapies to be used.

A simplified overview of the nanomaterial design is depicted below.