Monday, March 23, 2009

Artificial Liver Shows Promise

You've heard the stats: Each year fewer than 6,000 liver transplants are performed, yet 27,000 more people die from liver disease. One way medical researchers hope to save more lives is by developing an artificial liver that will help patients suffering an acute liver episode to survive until a transplant can be performed.

Six-year-old, California-based Vital Therapies, Inc. is developing ELAD, "...the first human cell-based bioartificial liver... (that) provides support for patients with severe liver failure by processing toxins and synthesizing proteins and metabolites that are key products of normal human liver function."

Although similar to kidney dialysis, a viable liver substitute must perform the organ's chemical functions as well as filter toxins. ELAD uses human liver cells as part of its design, hence it's description as a "bioartificial" device. Very 21st century, albeit a bit creepy.

ELAD has already saved lives and further studies get underway later this year. Fingers crossed, everyone. With advances like this, can man-made replacement livers be far off? I surely hope not.

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