Elucidation of the biology of stem cells of the lung parenchyma could revolutionise treatment of patients with lung disorders such as cancer, acute respiratory distress syndrome, emphysema, and fibrotic lung disease. How close is this goal? Despite remarkable observations and ensuing advances, more questions than answers have been generated. Progenitors of the alveolar epithelium remain largely mysterious, so the prospect of isolating enough of these cells and delivering them effectively to cure disease remains remote. Similarly, the bone-marrow-derived cell that might most effectively engraft the lung remains unknown. If this mechanism is an important process for lung repair, why will the administration of additional cells be more effective? Finally, there is an issue of control of multipotent cells to avoid the generation of multiple teratomas, longevity of the graft, and possible immunological reactions to gene products inserted to replace a deficiency. The biology is exciting but not yet well enough understood to support therapeutic advances.