On the basis of extensive studies in Joslin Clinic patients over 25 years, we propose a new model of diabetic nephropathy in type 1 diabetes. In this model, the predominant clinical feature of both early and late stages of diabetic nephropathy is progressive renal decline, not albuminuria. Progressive renal decline (estimated glomerular filtration rate loss >3.5 mL/min/year) is a unidirectional process that develops while patients have normal renal function. It progresses at an almost steady rate until end-stage renal disease is reached, albeit at widely differing rates among individuals. Progressive renal decline precedes the onset of microalbuminuria, and as it continues, it increases the risk of proteinuria. Therefore, study groups ascertained for microalbuminuria/proteinuria are enriched for patients with renal decline (decliners). We found prevalences of decliners in 10%, 32%, and 50% of patients with normoalbuminuria, microalbuminuria, and proteinuria, respectively. Whether the initial lesion of progressive renal decline is in the glomerulus, tubule, interstitium, or vasculature is unknown. Similarly unclear are the initiating mechanism and the driver of progression. No animal model mimics progressive renal decline, so etiological studies must be conducted in humans with diabetes. Prospective studies searching for biomarkers predictive of the onset and rate of progression of renal decline have already yielded positive findings that will help to develop not only accurate methods for early diagnosis but also new therapeutic approaches. Detecting in advance which patients will have rapid, moderate, or minimal rates of progression to end-stage renal disease will be the foundation for developing personalized methods of prevention and treatment of progressive renal decline in type 1 diabetes.