SCIENCE CHINA Materials, Volume 60, Issue 6: 471-486(2017) https://doi.org/10.1007/s40843-017-9049-0

Magnetic drug delivery systems

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  • ReceivedMar 31, 2017
  • AcceptedMay 9, 2017
  • PublishedJun 1, 2017


There has been unprecedented progress in the development of biomedical nanotechnology and nanomaterials over the past few decades, and nanoparticle-based drug delivery systems (DDSs) have great potential for clinical applications. Among these, magnetic drug delivery systems (MDDSs) based on magnetic nanoparticles (MNPs) are attracting increasing attention owing to their favorable biocompatibility and excellent multifunctional loading capability. MDDSs primarily have a solid core of superparamagnetic maghemite (γ-Fe2O3) or magnetite (Fe3O4) nanoparticles ranging in size from 10 to 100 nm. Their surface can be functionalized by organic and/or inorganic modification. Further conjugation with targeting ligands, drug loading, and MNP assembly can provide complex magnetic delivery systems with improved targeting efficacy and reduced toxicity. Owing to their sensitive response to external magnetic fields, MNPs and their assemblies have been developed as novel smart delivery systems. In this review, we first summarize the basic physicochemical and magnetic properties of desirable MDDSs that fulfill the requirements for specific clinical applications. Secondly, we discuss the surface modifications and functionalization issues that arise when designing elaborate MDDSs for future clinical uses. Finally, we highlight recent progress in the design and fabrication of MNPs, magnetic assemblies, and magnetic microbubbles and liposomes as MDDSs for cancer diagnosis and therapy. Recently, researchers have focused on enhanced targeting efficacy and theranostics by applying step-by-step sequential treatment, and by magnetically modulating dosing regimens, which are the current challenges for clinical applications.

Funded by

This work wassupported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China(31370019,61420106012)

National Key Basic Research Program of China(2013CB733804)

Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities(2242016K41072)


This work was financially funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC, 31370019, 61420106012) and the project of National Key Basic Research Program of China (2013CB733804). The funding partially comes from the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities (2242016K41072), Zhong Ying Young Scholar of Southeast University as well as the support from the Collaborative Innovation Center of Suzhou Nano Science and Technology.

Interest statement

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Contributions statement

Gu N and Yang F provided the overall concept. Liu Y wrote the paper and Li M prepared the figures, table and co-wrote the section of “SURFACE FUNCTIONALIZATION OF MAGNETIC NANOPARTICLES FOR TARGETING IN VIVO”. Yang F revised the manuscript. All authors participated in the discussion about the overall manuscript.

Author information

Yang Liu received his BSc degree from Southeast University, Nanjing, in 2015. Now, he is a PhD student in Prof. Fang Yang’s group in Southeast University. His research interests are focused on the ultrasound imaging guided drug delivery system and designing novel multi-model sensitive nanoparticles.

Fang Yang was born in 1979. She received her PhD degree in biomedical engineering from the School of Biological Science and Medical Engineering, Southeast University in 2009. Currently, she is a professor of the School of Biological Science and Medical Engineering, Southeast University. Her research interests mainly focus on the ultrasound multi-modal imaging, magnetic microbubbles, ultrasound molecular imaging, and imaging (ultrasound, magnetic resonance, optical, CT, etc.) guided accurate drug delivery system, etc.

Ning Gu was born in 1964. He received his PhD degree in biomedical engineering from the Department of Biomedical Engineering, Southeast University, Nanjing, China, in 1996. Currently he is a Changjiang Scholar Professor and NSFC Outstanding Young Investigator Fund Winner at Southeast University. He also serves as the president of Jiangsu Society of Biomedical Engineering, the director of the Research Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology of Southeast University, and the chief researcher of the Collaborative Innovation Center of Suzhou Nano-Science and Technology (2011 Program). His research interests include magnetic nanobiomaterials, nanobiology, medical imaging, advanced instrument development, etc.


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  • Figure 1

    Physicochemical considerations of MNPs for drug delivery systems.

  • Figure 2

    Schematic illustration of peroxidase- and hydrogen peroxidase-like enzyme activities of iron oxide nanoparticles, modified from reference [111], Copyright 2012, American Chemical Society.

  • Figure 3

    Schematic representation and structure of Rubik’s cube-like PTX magnetic nanoassemblies, modified from reference [119], Copyright 2016, Elsevier.

  • Figure 4

    Schematic diagram showing the enhanced targeting strategy of RGD-L-TRAIL@MMBs for tumor diagnostics and therapy.

  • Table 1   Materials used to modify the surface of MNPs for applications

    Modification method




    Organic materials




    Surface adsorption

















    RBC membrane


    PLT membrane


    Inorganic materials








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