The main objective in the development of nanomedicine is to obtain delivery platforms for targeted delivery of drugs or imaging agents for improved therapeutic efficacy, reduced side effects and increased diagnostic sensitivity. A (nano)material class that has been recognized for its controllable properties on many levels is ordered mesoporous inorganic materials, typically in the form of amorphous silica (SiO 2). Characteristics for this class of materials include mesoscopic order, tunable pore dimensions in the (macro)molecular size range, a high pore volume and surface area, the possibility for selective surface functionality as well as morphology control. The robust but biodegradable ceramic matrix moreover provides shelter for incorporated agents (drugs, proteins, imaging agents, photosensitizers) leaving the outer particle surface free for further modification. The unique features make these materials particularly amenable to modular design, whereby functional moieties and features may be interchanged or combined to produce multifunctional nanodelivery systems combining targeting, diagnostic, and therapeutic actions. This review covers the latest developments related to the use of mesoporous silica nanoparticles (MSNs) as nanocarriers in biomedical applications, with special focus on cancer therapy and diagnostics. © 2011 Bentham Science Publishers Ltd.