Extracorporeal liver support

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Purpose of review

The mortality in patients suffering from liver failure decreased in line with medical progress over the past decades. However, it still remains unacceptably high and liver transplantation still provides the only definite treatment for many patients. The goal of extracorporeal liver support systems is to improve the clinical condition of patients waiting for liver transplantation and/or enhance the regeneration of native injured liver. Nonbiological liver support systems with pure detoxification and biological liver support systems with assumed synthesis and metabolism in addition to detoxification are currently under clinical investigation. Since patient survival is the most significant outcome parameter, we focus in this review on prospective randomized trials with survival rate as primary outcome parameter.

Recent findings

Although a short-term outcome benefit in patients with acute-on-chronic liver failure was shown in some of these trials, long-term outcome has not been improved significantly with either of the support systems. In spite of more favourable but yet limited data in patients with acute liver failure, it is too early to draw definite conclusions.


The future development of liver support systems may provide different combinations of new adsorbents, integrated regional citrate anticoagulation and eventual substitution of irreversibly damaged albumin.

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