Acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) is a heterogeneous clonal disorder of haemopoietic progenitor cells and the most common malignant myeloid disorder in adults. The median age at presentation for patients with AML is 70 years. In the past few years, research in molecular biology has been instrumental in deciphering the pathogenesis of the disease. Genetic defects are thought to be the most important factors in determining the response to chemotherapy and outcome. Whereas significant progress has been made in the treatment of younger adults, the prospects for elderly patients have remained dismal, with median survival times of only a few months. This difference is related to comorbidities associated with ageing and to disease biology. Current efforts in clinical research focus on the assessment of targeted therapies. Such new approaches will probably lead to an increase in the cure rate.