The extracellular space is an environment hostile to unmodified polypeptides. For this reason, many eukaryotic proteins destined for exposure to this environment through secretion or display at the cell surface require maturation steps within a specialized organelle, the endoplasmic reticulum (ER). A complex homeostatic mechanism, known as the unfolded protein response (UPR), has evolved to link the load of newly synthesized proteins with the capacity of the ER to mature them. It has become apparent that dysfunction of the UPR plays an important role in some human diseases, especially those involving tissues dedicated to extracellular protein synthesis. Diabetes mellitus is an example of such a disease, since the demands for constantly varying levels of insulin synthesis make pancreatic beta-cells dependent on efficient UPR signaling. Furthermore, recent discoveries in this field indicate that the importance of the UPR in diabetes is not restricted to the beta-cell but is also involved in peripheral insulin resistance. This review addresses aspects of the UPR currently understood to be involved in human disease, including their role in diabetes mellitus, atherosclerosis, and neoplasia.