Gold and iron oxide hybrid nanoparticles (HNPs) synthesized by the thermal decomposition technique are bio-functionalized with a single chain antibody, scFv, that binds to the A33 antigen present on colorectal cancer cells. The HNP-scFv conjugates are stable in aqueous solution with a magnetization value of 44 emu g(-1) and exhibit strong optical absorbance at 800 nm. Here we test this material in targeting, imaging and selective thermal killing of colorectal cancer cells. Cellular uptake studies showed that A33-expressing cells take up the A33scFv-conjugated HNPs at a rate five times higher than cells that do not express the A33 antigen. Laser irradiation studies showed that approximately 53% of the A33-expressing cells exposed to targeted HNPs are killed after a six-minute laser treatment at 5.1 W cm(-2) using a 808 nm continuous wave laser diode while < 5% of A33-nonexpressing cells are killed. At a higher intensity, 31.5 W cm(-2), the thermal destruction increases to 99 and 40% for A33-expressing cells and A33 nonexpressing cells, respectively, after 6 min exposure. Flow cytometric analyses of the laser-irradiated A33 antigen-expressing cells show apoptosis-related cell death to be the primary mode of cell death at 5.1 W cm(-2), with increasing necrosis-related cell death at higher laser power. These results suggest that this new class of bio-conjugated hybrid nanoparticles can potentially serve as an effective antigen-targeted photothermal therapeutic agent for cancer treatment as well as a probe for magnetic resonance-based imaging.