Fulminant hepatic failure is a clinical syndrome associated with a high mortality rate. Orthotopic liver transplantation is the only clinically proven effective treatment for patients with end-stage liver disease who do not respond to medical management. A major limitation of this treatment modality is the scarcity of donor organs available, resulting in patients dying while waiting for a donor liver. An extracorporeal bioartificial liver (BAL) device containing viable hepatocytes has the potential to provide temporary hepatic support to liver failure patients, serving as a bridge to transplantation while awaiting a suitable donor. In some patients, providing temporary hepatic support may be sufficient to allow adequate regeneration of the host liver, thereby eliminating the need for a liver transplant. Although the BAL device is a promising technology for the treatment of liver failure, there are several technical challenges that must be overcome in order to develop systems with sufficient processing capacity and of manageable size. In this overview, the authors describe the critical issues involved in developing a BAL device. They also discuss their experiences in hepatocyte culture optimization within the context of a microchannel flat-plate BAL device.

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