Lipid-based nanocarriers have proven successful in the delivery of mainly chemotherapeutic agents, and currently they are being applied clinically in the treatment of various types of cancer. These drug delivery systems achieve increased therapeutic efficacy by altering the pharmacokinetics and biodistribution of encapsulated drugs, resulting in decreased drug toxicity and enhanced accumulation in tumor tissue. This increased accumulation is due to the relatively leaky immature vasculature of a tumor. After the clinical relevance of such drug delivery systems was demonstrated, research in this area focused on optimization, both by cell specific targeting and including controlled and triggered release concepts within the carrier. These more advanced targeted nanocarriers in general have clearly shown their potential in various animal tumor models and await clinical application. The development of targeted nanocarriers in which therapeutic and imaging agents are merged into a single carrier will certainly be of importance in the near future. Indeed, scientists active in the field of imaging (e.g. nuclear and magnetic resonance imaging) have already started to exploit nanocarriers for molecular imaging. Image-guided drug delivery using these multifunctional nanocarriers, containing therapeutic and imaging agents, will ultimately allow for online monitoring of tumor location, tumor targeting levels, intratumoral localization and drug release kinetics prior and during radio- and/or chemotherapeutic treatment. This review describes the current status and challenges in the field of nanocarrier-aided drug delivery and drug targeting and discusses the opportunities of combining imaging probes with these drug carriers and the potential of these multifunctional lipid-based nanocarriers within image-guided drug delivery.
Keywords: Image-guided drug delivery, molecular imaging, multifunctional, multimodal, cancer therapy, personalized medicine, nanocarriers, liposomes
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