Key Points Aptamers are single-stranded oligonucleotides that fold into defined architectures and bind to targets such as proteins. In binding proteins they often inhibit protein–protein interactions and thereby may elicit therapeutic effects such as antagonism. Aptamers are discovered using SELEX (systematic evolution of ligands by exponential enrichment), a directed in vitro evolution technique in which large libraries of degenerate oligonucleotides are iteratively and alternately partitioned for target binding. They are then amplified enzymatically until functional sequences are identified by the sequencing of cloned individuals. For most therapeutic purposes, aptamers are truncated to reduce synthesis costs, modified at the sugars and capped at their termini to increase nuclease resistance, and conjugated to polyethylene glycol or another entity to reduce renal filtration rates. The first aptamer approved for a therapeutic application was pegaptanib sodium (Macugen; Pfizer/Eyetech), which was approved in 2004 by the US Food and Drug Administration for macular degeneration. Eight other aptamers are currently undergoing clinical evaluation for various haematology, oncology, ocular and inflammatory indications. Aptamers are ultimately chemically synthesized in a readily scalable process in which specific conjugation points are introduced with defined stereochemistry. Unlike some protein therapeutics, aptamers do not elicit antibodies, and because aptamers generally contain sugars modified at their 2′-positions, Toll-like receptor-mediated innate immune responses are also abrogated. As aptamers are oligonucleotides they can be readily assembled into supramolecular multi-component structures using hybridization. Owing to the fact that binding to appropriate cell-surface targets can lead to internalization, aptamers can also be used to deliver therapeutic cargoes such as small interfering RNA. Supramolecular assemblies of aptamers and delivery agents have already been demonstrated in vivo and may pave the way for further therapeutic strategies with this modality in the future.