According to researchers a device that filters toxins from the blood can buy a patient time while waiting for a liver transplant. Liver failure is a relatively common problem and most often the only cure is a transplant. But donated livers are in short supply and many patients die while waiting for one. Research on an artificial liver has been going on for many years now, but the liver is such a complex organ that success has been elusive.
However, researchers at the University of Michigan are now having success with a device that can filter toxins out of the blood, mimicking the liver's cleansing action. The liver machine consists of a column of the protein albumin. Blood is circulated from the patient's body, through the column, and returned to the body. The albumin molecules attract the toxin molecules, pulling them out of the blood. So far, 20 critically ill patients have used the device - and 11 of them survived long enough for a transplant or even recovered. Trials are ongoing at other US hospitals. The Michigan researchers will soon start to trial an even more advanced liver support system, called the Molecular Adsorbent Recirculating System, which has been developed by scientists in Germany.