MRI is a very versatile tool for noninvasive imaging and it is particularly attractive as an imaging technique in paediatric patients given the absence of ionizing radiation. Recent advances in the field of MRI have enabled tissue function to be probed noninvasively, and increasingly MRI is being used to assess cellular and molecular processes. For example, dynamic contrast-enhanced MRI has been used to assess tissue vascularity, diffusion-weighted imaging can quantify molecular movements of water in tissue compartments and MR spectroscopy provides a quantitative assessment of metabolite levels. A number of targeted contrast agents have been developed that bind specifically to receptors on the vascular endothelium or cell surface and there are several MR methods for labelling cells and tracking cellular movements. Hyperpolarization techniques have the capability of massively increasing the sensitivity of MRI and these have been used to image tissue pH, successful response to drug treatment as well as imaging the microstructure of the lungs. Although there are many challenges to be overcome before these techniques can be translated into routine paediatric imaging, they could potentially be used to aid diagnosis, predict disease outcome, target biopsies and determine treatment response noninvasively.