Single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs) were covalently linked to epidermal growth factor (EGF) proteins through an esterification process that was found to be responsible for the docking of SWCNTs on the human pancreatic cancer cells (PANC-1) surface, thus providing a mechanism for the enhanced delivery and internalization of the nanotubes. Micro Raman spectroscopy and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay were used to evaluate the delivery process and kinetics of the SWCNTs. In vitro studies indicated that the delivery kinetics of SWCNT–EGF conjugates, at a concentration of 85 µg ml−1, to the PANC-1 cell surfaces was significant in the first 30 min of incubation, but reached a plateau with time in accordance with the establishment of equilibrium between the association and the dissociation of EGF with the cell receptors. SWCNT–EGF conjugates could act as strong thermal ablation agents and could induce higher percentages of cellular death compared with the nontargeted SWCNTs alone. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.