Light is an electromagnetic radiation that can convert its energy into different forms (e.g., heat, chemical energy, and acoustic waves). This property has been exploited in phototherapy (e.g., photothermal therapy and photodynamic therapy (PDT)) and optical imaging (e.g., fluorescence imaging) for therapeutic and diagnostic purposes. Light-controlled therapies can provide minimally- or noninvasive spatiotemporal control as well as deep tissue penetration. Nanotechnology provides numerous advantages, including selective targeting of tissues, prolongation of therapeutic effect, protection of active payloads, and improved therapeutic indices. This review explores the advances that nanotechnology can bring to light-based therapies and diagnostics, and vice versa, including photo-triggered systems, nanoparticles containing photoactive molecules, and nanoparticles that are themselves photoactive. Limitations of light-based therapies such as photic injury and phototoxicity are discussed. WIREs Nanomed Nanobiotechnol 2012, 4:638–662. doi: 10.1002/wnan.1188
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