Findings from gene expression profiling studies are leading to new diagnostic and therapeutic strategies that can be applied in medical practice, especially in the field of oncology. Promising results of gene expression profiling of the peripheral blood in patients with ischaemic stroke have been obtained in recent pilot studies, demonstrating a partially reproducible gene signature of acute cerebral ischaemia. However, questions remain. Given that blood is at least in part a surrogate tissue for ischaemic stroke, the specificity of these signatures needs to be evaluated. Furthermore, it needs to be determined whether standardization of this methodology is required and whether clinical signatures can be identified that are improvements over the tools currently used in clinical practice. Clinically useful signatures would include those of haemorrhagic as well as ischaemic stroke, reclassification of stroke type and prognosis, and vascular disease risk. If these conditions are met, then it should be possible to develop cost-effective and rapid assays.