Optical coherence tomography is a new imaging technique that can perform high-resolution, micrometre-scale, cross-sectional imaging in biological systems. The technology has been developed, and reduced to, preliminary clinical practice in ophthalmology. The challenging problem that OCT may address is the development of 'optical biopsy' techniques. These techniques can provide diagnostic imaging of tissue morphology without the need for excision of specimens. Many investigations remain to identify optimal areas for clinical application, and additional engineering must be done to integrate vertically the technology and to reduce it to clinical practice. Nevertheless, preliminary studies indicate the feasibility of developing this technology for a wide range of clinical and research diagnostic imaging applications. The ability to non-excisionally evaluate tissue morphology using a catheter or an endoscope could have a significant impact on the diagnosis and management of a wide range of diseases.