This edition of Then and Now discusses three papers published in Diabetologia in the 1980s relating to diabetic nephropathy. Two epidemiological papers by Andersen et al (1983; 25:496-501) and Borch-Johnsen et al (1985; 28:590-596) described in graphic detail the ravages of diabetic nephropathy in type 1 diabetes. After 40 years of diabetes, 41% of their cohort had developed persistent proteinuria. The median time from first appearance of proteinuria to death was 7-8 years, the majority dying of uraemia or cardiovascular disease. The third paper, by Mathiesen et al (1984; 26:406-410), identified individuals with microalbuminuria, a much earlier stage of diabetic nephropathy, and analysed the risk of progression to persistent proteinuria at various levels of urine albumin excretion. Since the description of microalbuminuria, clinicians have hoped that earlier identification of individuals at high risk of end-stage kidney disease, coupled with aggressive use of reno-protective therapies, would prevent, or at the very least significantly delay, the development of end-stage renal disease. Recent data suggest that the outlook has indeed improved since the 1980s, at least in some populations. However, we may be delaying rather than preventing the development of microalbuminuria, proteinuria and kidney failure. Whilst a delay of 10 or more years in the appearance of end-stage renal disease is very welcome, further work is needed to understand why rates of chronic kidney disease vary substantially between cohorts and to develop novel therapies.