Recombinant human erythropoietin (r-HuEPO) is of interest to pediatric hematologists and neonatologists because it may prove to be an effective alternative to blood transfusions in preventing and treating anemia in premature infants. The anemia of prematurity is the most promising setting for initial clinical trials. However, it is conceivable that recombinant erythropoietin will be given at birth to low-birth-weight infants in an effort to stimulate endogenous erythropoiesis and thereby prevent some of the erythrocyte transfusions required to replace blood sampled for laboratory tests. Beyond its appeal as a therapeutic alternative to red blood cell transfusions, recombinant human erythropoietin is likely to be the first member of an entirely new class of drugs to be used widely in neonatal medicine. These are drugs produced by cloning normal human genes and expressing them in the laboratory. Because many of the problems of premature birth are caused by developmental immaturity, transiently replacing crucial proteins with exact copies produced by the techniques of recombinant DNA technology is an approach that may have a major impact on morbidity and mortality of neonates. Carefully designed, controlled clinical trials will be essential to determine the role of new agents like r-HuEPO in the treatment of medical problems of premature infants.