This article reviews the present state of renal failure and its treatment in the industrialized world. Novel and experimental therapies for the treatment of renal failure are covered, with special emphasis on a hybrid bioartificial kidney currently undergoing clinical trials in the USA. Preclinical data, results from human trials and work on miniaturization of the bioartificial kidney for implantation are presented. Research on microfluidics and nanotechnology applied to dialysis is ongoing in many academic centers, and several promising approaches are discussed. After 10 years of incremental improvements in end-stage renal disease care, several revolutionary technologies are on the horizon and approaching the marketplace.