What is an Artificial Liver?

An artificial liver is a device which is generally made from real human liver cells. Most times it is used to help patients who suffer from acute or chronic liver failure. While the artificial liver is still under development, it shows promise in helping to keep patients alive while waiting on a transplant or during times of illness when the liver is not working at maximum function.

The artificial liver is not meant as a permanent substitute for a fully functioning human liver. In many cases it is developed using real liver stem cells in a laboratory to develop liver tissues. These can be inserted into the body to act as an aid to a failing liver. Cells may also be injected into an unhealthy liver to help the organ’s own tissues regenerate themselves. This process is usually reserved for those with acute liver failure rather than chronic or long-term.

Long-term liver patients will be able to use the artificial liver externally to help supplement the natural liver's functioning. Studies have also been conducted in using the device as a substitute for dialysis for those with both liver and kidney malfunctions. This is something that researchers are looking into, and the studies show promise for the future of chronically ill patients.
Many researchers believe that by using liver stem cells, entire organs can be regenerated. This would virtually eliminate the need for organ donors, living or dead, once the science was perfected. In fact, a human liver has been developed in a laboratory, although it was not functional for use in a transplant.

There are many who do not believe that stem cell organ generation is ethical however, and there is much debate over whether they should be used for developing live organs. The main issues are concerning the development of embryos, or early developing babies, in order to conduct research on stem cells and organ cloning. Many groups have objected to this type of scientific exploration as "playing God."

Despite these debates, stem cell research is making great strides at developing organs like the artificial liver so that eventually those who need transplants won’t have to wait the months or even years that it takes to find a suitable donor. Stem cells may be taken from healthy beings to be used at a future date when they are needed, or to create organs for others who are compatible. Similar techniques are already being used at storing infant umbilical cord blood, which has been shown to be useful in curing many illnesses. //J. Stevens