Each year, there are over 12,000 Americans on the waiting list for a liver transplant. In 2019, there were 12,767 Americans on the waiting list, and only 8,896 liver transplants were performed.

Researchers are looking into ways to shorten times on the waiting list and make liver transplants safer. One of the biggest advancements in recent years is the development of a bioartificial liver.

A bioartificial liver is a device that mixes human biological parts with manufactured parts. This technology is still being tested. In the future, bioartificial livers could be used to treat liver failure and reduce the need for traditional liver transplants.

What does ‘bioartificial’ mean?

The word “bioartificial” means that something is made of both living parts, such as cells or tissues, and synthetic or manufactured parts.

Bioartificial organs use combined manufactured parts and living tissue to help patients experiencing organ failure. This technology is still in its developmental stages but shows promise.

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A bioartificial liver is a device that is being developed to help people who are in liver failure. In the future, bioartificial livers might be able to be used in place of liver transplants for some people.

This could reduce the need for donor organs, substantially reducing transplant wait times and potentially saving many lives.

Currently, bioartificial livers are still in their testing and development phase. Trials of a device called the Mayo Spheroid Reservoir Bioartificial Liver (SRBAL) are testing the device as a bridge that can extend the time people can wait for a transplant by up to two weeks.

The best candidates for the SRBAL would be people whose liver failure was caused by an overdose of medication and patients who show a strong likelihood of liver regeneration.

Bioartificial livers work using many of the same principles as hemodialysis machines but on a smaller scale. They work outside the body, and they process and clean the blood. However, unlike entirely artificial hemodialysis machines, bioartificial livers are a hybrid of artificial and biological human parts.

As this technology progresses, the human biological components might allow these devices to be implanted inside the human body, but this is not currently possible.

Who invented the bioartificial liver?

The SRBAL was developed at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

The clinic’s Artificial Liver and Liver Transplantation laboratory, led by Scott L. Nyberg, MD, PhD, has been working on the technology for over 25 years. Nyberg and his team have made significant strides toward creating a bioartificial liver that could change the treatment of liver failure in the decades to come.

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Right now, the cost of getting a bioartificial liver isn’t known. Bioartificial livers aren’t a standard or approved medical treatment for liver failure or liver disease yet.

This means they won’t be covered by any insurance company or part of any standard treatment plant, and you won’t find this technology at reputable hospitals and medical centers.

However, it’s likely that in the future when they’re available, bioartificial liver transplants will be treated similarly to standard transplants by insurance or Medicare.

The complications of bioartificial livers aren’t fully known. Researchers who are developing bioartificial livers hope that they will have fewer risks and complications than traditional organ transplants. Ideally, they’ll be created from your cells, which could eliminate the risk of tissue rejection.

At this time, there isn’t enough data to support this. There will need to be research done on bioartificial livers, both as a bridge treatment and as a permanent treatment.

All medical treatments have some risks and complications, but it’s simply too early in the development process to say what the complications of a bioartificial liver might be.

Researchers hope artificial livers will allow recipients to return to normal activity levels after a transplant. However, it’s too early to know whether this will be the case.

As of 2022, it’s not known for certain if bioartificial livers will be able to be implanted into the human body at all. The possible complications of treatments needed to maintain a bioartificial liver are also unknown.

As more studies are‌ done, researchers will have more answers to these and other questions.

Get involved!

If the idea of bioartificial liver transplants intrigues you, you might be able to take part in a clinical trial that deals with bioartificial livers. You can talk with your doctor about your liver health and eligibility for a clinical trial.

Visit ClinicalTrial.gov to learn more about current ongoing trials.

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Bioartificial livers are technology in development. They work similarly to hemodialysis machines but are much smaller. Additionally, they’re made of both artificial and human biological parts.

Researchers hope that in the future, these human biological parts will make it possible for bioartificial livers to be implanted into human bodies. This could reduce the need for traditional organ transplants and transplant complications.

Although these devices are still in development, researchers are hopeful that they’ll go on to change and improve liver failure treatment.