Optical imaging is crucial for addressing fundamental problems in all areas of life science. With the use of confocal and two-photon fluorescence microscopy, complex dynamic structures and functions in a plethora of tissue and cell types have been visualized. However, the resolution of ‘classical’ optical imaging methods is poor due to the diffraction limit and does not allow resolution of the cellular microcosmos. On the other hand, the novel stimulated emission depletion (STED) microscopy technique, because of its targeted on/off-switching of fluorescence, is not hampered by a diffraction-limited resolution barrier. STED microscopy can therefore provide much sharper images, permitting nanoscale visualization by sequential imaging of individual-labelled biomolecules, which should allow previous findings to be reinvestigated and provide novel information. The aim of this review is to highlight promising developments in and applications of STED microscopy and their impact on unresolved issues in biomedical science.