Theranostics 2020; 10(11):4944-4957. doi:10.7150/thno.42471 This issue


Ultrasmall gold nanoparticles in cancer diagnosis and therapy

Miao Fan1*, Yu Han1*, Shutao Gao1, Hongyu Yan1, Lingzhi Cao1, Zhenhua Li1, Xing-Jie Liang2✉, Jinchao Zhang1✉

1. College of Chemistry & Environmental Science, Chemical Biology Key Laboratory of Hebei Province, Key Laboratory of Medicinal Chemistry and Molecular Diagnosis of the Ministry of Education, Hebei University, Baoding 071002, P. R. China;
2. CAS Key Laboratory for Biological Effects of Nanomaterials and Nanosafety, National Center for Nanoscience and Technology, Beijing 100190, P. R. China.
*Equal Contribution

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( See for full terms and conditions.
Fan M, Han Y, Gao S, Yan H, Cao L, Li Z, Liang XJ, Zhang J. Ultrasmall gold nanoparticles in cancer diagnosis and therapy. Theranostics 2020; 10(11):4944-4957. doi:10.7150/thno.42471. Available from

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Graphic abstract

Due to their lower systemic toxicity, faster kidney clearance and higher tumor accumulation, ultrasmall gold nanoparticles (less than 10 nm in diameter) have been proved to be promising in biomedical applications. However, their potential applications in cancer imaging and treatment have not been reviewed yet. This review summarizes the efforts to develop systems based on ultrasmall gold nanoparticles for use in cancer diagnosis and therapy. First, we describe the methods for controlling the size and surface functionalization of ultrasmall gold nanoparticles. Second, we review the research on ultrasmall gold nanoparticles in cancer imaging and treatment. Specifically, we focus on the applications of ultrasmall gold nanoparticles in tumor visualization and bioimaging in different fields such as magnetic resonance imaging, photoacoustic imaging, fluorescence imaging, and X-ray scatter imaging. We also highlight the applications of ultrasmall gold nanoparticles in tumor chemotherapy, radiotherapy, photodynamic therapy and gene therapy.

Keywords: ultrasmall gold nanoparticles, theranostics, size, imaging, cancer therapy