This issue of the Journal of Pathology contains 16 articles largely dealing with the role of tissue-specific adult stem cells in the pathogenesis of disease, notably cancer. These authoritative reviews begin by describing the current knowledge regarding the identity and molecular regulation of normal tissue-specific stem cells, before itemizing their role in the aetiology and progression of disease. Fundamental concepts regarding the stem cell niche have been gleaned from studies of germ line stem cells in Drosophila and Caenorhabditis elegans, and these are described in detail in this issue. Somatic cell reprogramming, a process underlying not only therapeutic cloning but also the production of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, is further discussed. Much attention is given to embryonic stem (ES) and iPS cells within the scientific community; this issue of the Journal of Pathology redresses this imbalance by illustrating the pivotal role of adult stem cells in much of human disease. Copyright (c) 2008 Pathological Society of Great Britain and Ireland. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.