The art and science of meta-analysis, the combination of results from multiple independent studies, is now more than a century old. In the last 30 years, however, as the need for medical research and clinical practice to be based on the totality of relevant and sound evidence has been increasingly recognized, the impact of meta-analysis has grown enormously. In this paper, we review highlights of recent developments in meta-analysis in medical research. We outline in particular how emphasis has been placed on (i) heterogeneity and random-effects analyses; (ii) special consideration in different areas of application; (iii) assessing bias within and across studies; and (iv) extension of ideas to complex evidence synthesis. We conclude the paper with some remarks on ongoing challenges and possible directions for the future. Copyright © 2007 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.