Although liver transplantation has become standard procedure for patients with liver failure, a number of issues in the management of these patients remains to be addressed. Alternative approaches have been tested, such as hepatocytes containing liver-support systems and filtration devices. However, the replacement of detoxification has been difficult, as the majority of toxins accumulating in liver failure is albumin-bound. Albumin dialysis (MARS system) is characterized by the specific removal of albumin-bound toxins through an innovative membrane transport. In particular, the albumin acts as a specific molecular adsorbent that is regenerated on line in a recycling system. Nowadays MARS represents the most frequently used liver support system. This treatment has been shown to remove albumin-bound molecules, such as bilirubin, bile acids, aromatic amino acids and copper. The removal of these toxins is clinically accompanied with an improvement of liver, cardiovascular and renal functions and hepatic encephalopathy. In several trials MARS was found to improve the clinical situation in patients with acute exacerbation of chronic liver failure and acute hepatic failure, but also in hepatorenal syndrome and primary graft non functionor chronic rejection after liver transplantation. In summary, a critical analysis of the literature confirms that MARS device can be a safe therapeutic choice to achieve a better clinical outcome, and, sometimes, a survival advantage in patients with liver failure, even if a multi-center randomized trial is the only reliable way to enforce todays results. Further advances in the MARS components will definitively state whether albumin dialysis may represent the future in the field of artificial liver devices.
Keywords: albumin dialysis, liver failure, artificial liver, extra corporeal detoxification, mars