Theranostics 2012; 2(9):905-915. doi:10.7150/thno.4908 This issue


Porphyrins as Theranostic Agents from Prehistoric to Modern Times

Yumiao Zhang1, Jonathan F. Lovell1,2✉

1. Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering;
2. Department of Biomedical Engineering, University at Buffalo, State University of New York, Buffalo, New York 14260, United States

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Zhang Y, Lovell JF. Porphyrins as Theranostic Agents from Prehistoric to Modern Times. Theranostics 2012; 2(9):905-915. doi:10.7150/thno.4908. Available from

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Long before humans roamed the planet, porphyrins in blood were serving not only as indispensable oxygen carriers, but also as the bright red contrast agent that unmistakably indicates injury sites. They have proven valuable as whole body imaging modalities have emerged, with endogenous hemoglobin porphyrins being used for new approaches such as functional magnetic resonance imaging and photoacoustic imaging. With the capability for both near infrared fluorescence imaging and phototherapy, porphyrins were the first exogenous agents that were employed with intrinsic multimodal theranostic character. Porphyrins have been used as tumor-specific diagnostic fluorescence imaging agents since 1924, as positron emission agents since 1951, and as magnetic resonance (MR) contrast agents since 1987. Exogenous porphyrins remain in clinical use for photodynamic therapy. Because they can chelate a wide range of metals, exogenous porphyrins have demonstrated potential for use in radiotherapy and multimodal imaging modalities. Going forward, intrinsic porphyrin biocompatibility and multimodality will keep new applications of this class of molecules at the forefront of theranostic research.

Keywords: Porphyrins, theranostics