Theranostic safe quantum dots for anticancer and bioimaging applications

Document Type : Narrative Review


1 Department of Biological Science, Faculty of Science, University of Kurdistan, Sanandaj, Kurdistan, Iran Nanobiotechnology Department, Faculty of Innovative Science and Technology, Razi University, Kermanshah, Iran

2 UFPI - Universidade Federal do PiauĂ­, Brazil; School of Engineering, Saveetha University, Chennai, India; Hebei University of Technology, Tianjin, China

3 Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, QLD, 4072, Australia


The main hindrance for administrating conventional chemotherapeutic drugs includes adverse non-specific side effects, which can be debilitating and life-threatening. The recent emergence of multidrug-resistant cancer cells to a wide range of chemotherapeutic drugs is another complicating issue, particularly in cancer metastasis. Passive and active targeting of cancer cells by effective drug delivery systems (specifically, nanocarriers) may attenuate these side effects and bypass drug resistance. In addition, in vivo imaging of cancerous tumors can help in the timely diagnosis and real-time treatment of cancer in the first stages of cancer growth by detecting drug distribution in cancer cells and other body parts. Among the numerous organic and inorganic nanomaterials available to researchers and clinicians, quantum dots have exhibited promising results owing to their significant photoluminescence and electroluminescent properties and simple functionalization with anticancer agents. However, the safety of quantum dots has been a significant drawback limiting their wide-spread use in medicine. This review highlights that new quantum dots can be applied as theranostic agents safely for improved diagnosis and therapy for various types of cancers. In this review, both diagnostic and therapeutic properties of some novel quantum dot nanocarriers in combination with other nanomaterials and anticancer agents are discussed according to recent investigations. Moreover, the disadvantages of these new safe quantum dots are discussed with poignant thoughts on what is needed for their future clinical use.

Graphical Abstract

Theranostic safe quantum dots for anticancer and bioimaging applications


  • Modifying QDs with PEI with a high positive charge may be an appropriate strategy.
  • To reduce the side effects of conventional anticancer drugs, active targeting of cancer cells may be possible by targeting specific ligands.
  • Cancer cell transferrin receptors are one the main targets for the micro and nano formulation of QDs.
  • QDs should be smartly combined with other safe micro or nanomaterials composed of Se, Te, and other chemistries.
  • Comprehensive studies focusing on biocompatibility and active targeting of cancer cells are indispensable.


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