Local News

New UNC Liver Failure Device Aims To Save Lives

Posted March 26, 2003 12:04 p.m. EST

— Without a transplant, most cases of acute liver failure are deadly, but a new device out of the

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

could help save lives.

Acute liver failure comes on suddenly. It is caused by hepatitis A or B or can be triggered by a medication overdose, like acetaminophen.

Sherry Robbin has acute liver failure and needs a liver transplant, but there are not enough liver donors available. She said it could take years to get one.

"It's just exhausting beyond exhausting," Robbin said.

Doctors said people with acute liver failure cannot wait that long.

"The mortality rate, if you look at it, is as high as 90 percent," said Dr. Roshan Shrestha, liver transplant director at UNC.

Shrestha believes a new machine could save lives.

"It's a detoxification powerhouse," he said.

The liver assist device takes over when a person's liver cannot do its job.

A catheter is run from the machine into a vein in the patient's neck. Then the machine filters toxins from the blood and cultured human liver cells are added.

"Then, it will go back to the patient through the pump. It's a continuous treatment," Shrestha said.

The new cells help the liver do its job. Patients stay on the device until a donor liver is found.

For some patients, Shrestha said a transplant is not necessary.

"In many cases, the device buys enough time for the patient's liver to completely heal itself. It will regenerate completely and you may not have any further consequences," he said.

A small, earlier study showed that 91 percent of patients who used the device recovered fully or received a successful transplant.

A new, larger study is currently under way at centers across the country.