Liver disorders may be a consequence of any type of liver disease, including viral hepatitis, cirrhosis, and liver damage from alcohol or drugs. Without treatment, a person with liver disease is susceptible to a wide range of complications, including:
- Hepatic encephalopathy - scar tissue prevents adequate blood flow through the liver, preventing clearance of toxins. Circulating toxins may affect brain functioning, leading to coma.
- Ascites - a build-up of sodium, which leads to fluid retention in the abdominal cavity and in the legs, feet and back (edema).
- Liver failure - liver cells are destroyed faster than replacement rate, until the organ can no longer function.
- Cancer - chronic cirrhosis or some forms of hepatitis can make the liver more susceptible to primary cancer.
A large portion of the liver must be damaged before liver failure occurs. Liver failure may develop rapidly (days or weeks) or gradually (months or years), possibly progressing to multi-organ failure and death.
The primary role of an artificial liver support device is the removal of toxins from the blood. Early extracorporeal devices for artificial liver support have used procedures such as hemodialysis, hemofiltration, plasma exchange and hemoperfusion using charcoal or polymer-based sorbents. These procedures were not effective in their ability to remove albumin-bound toxic molecules and have demonstrated adverse side effects.