Superparamagnetic iron oxide (SPIO) has been used as a contrast agent for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) since the late 20th century. With the development of SPIO, cellular MRI has been recognized as a suitable and highly sensitive noninvasive modality with great potential to benefit translational research. In addition to its traditional diagnostic property, latest advances have conferred SPIO with multifunctionality. Several SPIO-based theranostic probes with targeting, therapeutic and diagnosis components have been successfully developed. The objective of this brief review is to summarize the characteristics, synthesizing methods, labeling approaches and current applications of SPIO-based cellular MRI in oncology. Herein, we first depict the history, classification and advantages of and the differences between T1- and T2/T2-based SPIO contrast agents for cancer treatment. Second, we outline current coating materials that render SPIO less toxic and more biocompatible to mammalian cells. Finally, the cell labeling techniques and applications of SPIO-based MRI for tracking mesenchymal stem cell tumor-homing in preclinical models are introduced.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2019


  • cancer, mesenchymal stem cell
  • magnetic resonance imaging
  • Superparamagnetic iron oxide
  • theranostics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Electronic, Optical and Magnetic Materials
  • Atomic and Molecular Physics, and Optics
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


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