The majority of contrast agents used in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is based on the rare-earth element gadolinium. Gadolinium-based nanoparticles could find promising applications in pre-clinical diagnostic procedures of certain types of cancer, such as glioblastoma multiforme. This is one of the most malignant, lethal and poorly accessible forms of cancer. Recent advances in colloidal nanocrystal synthesis have led to the development of ultra-small crystals of gadolinium oxide (US-Gd2O3, 2–3 nm diameter). As of today, this is the smallest and the densest of all Gd-containing nanoparticles. Cancer cells labeled with a sufficient quantity of this compound appear bright in T1-weighted MRI images. Here we demonstrate that US-Gd2O3 can be used to label GL-261 glioblastoma multiforme cells, followed by localization and visualization in vivo using MRI. Very high amounts of Gd are efficiently internalized and retained in cells, as confirmed with TEM and ICP-MS. Labeled cells were visualized in vivo at 1.5 T using the chicken embryo model. This is one more step toward the development of “positively contrasted” cell tracking procedures with MRI. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.