Sepsis is characterized by a severe inflammatory response to infection, and its complications, including acute kidney injury, can be fatal. Animal models that correctly mimic human disease are extremely valuable because they hasten the development of clinically useful therapeutics. Too often, however, animal models do not properly mimic human disease. In this Review, we outline a bedside-to-bench-to-bedside approach that has resulted in improved animal models for the study of sepsis - a complex disease for which preventive and therapeutic strategies are unfortunately lacking. We also highlight a few of the promising avenues for therapeutic advances and biomarkers for sepsis and sepsis-induced acute kidney injury. Finally, we review how the study of drug targets and biomarkers are affected by and in turn have influenced these evolving animal models.