The treatment of end-stage liver disease and acute liver failure remains a clinically relevant issue. Although orthotopic liver transplantation is a well-established procedure, whole-organ transplantation is invasive and increasingly limited by the unavailability of suitable donor organs. Artificial and bioartificial liver support systems have been developed to provide an alternative to whole organ transplantation, but despite three decades of scientific efforts, the results are still not convincing with respect to clinical outcome. In this Review, conceptual limitations of clinically available liver support therapy systems are discussed. Furthermore, alternative concepts, such as hepatocyte transplantation, and cutting-edge developments in the field of liver support strategies, including the repopulation of decellularized organs and the biofabrication of entirely new organs by printing techniques or induced organogenesis are analysed with respect to clinical relevance. Whereas hepatocyte transplantation shows promising clinical results, at least for the temporary treatment of inborn metabolic diseases, so far data regarding implantation of engineered hepatic tissue have only emerged from preclinical experiments. However, the evolving techniques presented here raise hope for bioengineered liver support therapies in the future.
Update: The review „Liver support strategies: cutting-edge technologies“ (authors: Benjamin Struecker, Nathanael Raschzok & Igor M. Sauer) is now available.