BACKGROUND:Identifying the precise location of cells and their migration dynamics is of utmost importance for achieving the therapeutic potential of cells after implantation into a host. Magnetic resonance imaging is a suitable, non-invasive technique for cell monitoring when used in combination with contrast agents. RESULTS:This work shows that nanowires with an iron core and an iron oxide shell are excellent materials for this application, due to their customizable magnetic properties and biocompatibility. The longitudinal and transverse magnetic relaxivities of the core-shell nanowires were evaluated at 1.5 T, revealing a high performance as T2 contrast agents. Different levels of oxidation and various surface coatings were tested at 7 T. Their effects on the T2 contrast were reflected in the tailored transverse relaxivities. Finally, the detection of nanowire-labeled breast cancer cells was demonstrated in T2-weighted images of cells implanted in both, in vitro in tissue-mimicking phantoms and in vivo in mouse brain. Labeling the cells with a nanowire concentration of 0.8 μg of Fe/mL allowed the detection of 25 cells/µL in vitro, diminishing the possibility of side effects. This performance enabled an efficient labelling for high-resolution cell detection after in vivo implantation (~ 10 nanowire-labeled cells) over a minimum of 40 days. CONCLUSIONS:Iron-iron oxide core-shell nanowires enabled the efficient and longitudinal cellular detection through magnetic resonance imaging acting as T2 contrast agents. Combined with the possibility of magnetic guidance as well as triggering of cellular responses, for instance by the recently discovered strong photothermal response, opens the door to new horizons in cell therapy and make iron-iron oxide core-shell nanowires a promising theranostic platform.