Retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) transplantation aims to restore the subretinal anatomy and re-establish the critical interaction between the RPE and the photoreceptor, which is fundamental to sight. The field has developed over the past 20 years with advances coming from a large body of animal work and more recently a considerable number of human trials. Enormous progress has been made with the potential for at least partial restoration of visual function in both animal and human clinical work. Diseases that have been treated with RPE transplantation demonstrating partial reversal of vision loss include primary RPE dystrophies such as the merTK dystrophy in the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) rat and in humans, photoreceptor dystrophies as well as complex retinal diseases such as atrophic and neovascular age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Unfortunately, in the human trials the visual recovery has been limited at best and full visual recovery has not been demonstrated. Autologous full-thickness transplants have been used most commonly and effectively in human disease but the search for a cell source to replace autologous RPE such as embryonic stem cells, marrow-derived stem cells, umbilical cord-derived cells as well as immortalised cell lines continues. The combination of cell transplantation with other modalities of treatment such as gene transfer remains an exciting future prospect. RPE transplantation has already been shown to be capable of restoring the subretinal anatomy and improving photoreceptor function in a variety of retinal diseases. In the near future, refinements of current techniques are likely to allow RPE transplantation to enter the mainstream of retinal therapy at a time when the treatment of previously blinding retinal diseases is finally becoming a reality. (C) 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.