Open Access Open Badges Research article

A simple dummy liver assist device prolongs anhepatic survival in a porcine model of total hepatectomy by slight hypothermia

Karolin Thiel1, Martin Schenk1, Alexander Etspüler2, Thomas Schenk3, Matthias H Morgalla3, Alfred Königsrainer1 and Christian Thiel1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of General, Visceral and Transplant Surgery, Tuebingen University Hospital, Hoppe-Seyler-Strasse 3, Tuebingen 72076, Germany

2 Department of Anaesthesiology, Tuebingen University Hospital, Hoppe-Seyler-Strasse 3, Tuebingen 72076, Germany

3 Department of Neurosurgery, Tuebingen University Hospital, Hoppe-Seyler-Strasse 3, Tuebingen 72076, Germany

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BMC Gastroenterology 2011, 11:79  doi:10.1186/1471-230X-11-79

Published: 14 July 2011



Advances in intensive care support such as therapeutic hypothermia or new liver assist devices have been the mainstay of treatment attempting to bridge the gap from acute liver failure to liver transplantation, but the efficacy of the available devices in reducing mortality has been questioned. To address this issue, the present animal study was aimed to analyze the pure clinical effects of a simple extracorporeal dummy device in an anhepatic porcine model of acute liver failure.


Total hepatectomy was performed in ten female pigs followed by standardized intensive care support until death. Five animals (dummy group, n = 5) underwent additional cyclic connection to an extracorporeal dummy device which consisted of a plasma separation unit. The separated undetoxified plasma was completely returned to the pigs circulation without any plasma substitution or exchange in contrast to animals receiving intensive care support alone (control group, n = 5). All physiological parameters such as vital and ventilation parameters were monitored electronically; laboratory values and endotoxin levels were measured every 8 hours.


Survival of the dummy device group was 74 ± 6 hours in contrast to 53 ± 5 hours of the control group which was statistically significant (p < 0.05). Body temperature 24 hours after hepatectomy was significantly lower (36.5 ± 0.5°C vs. 38.2 ± 0.7°C) in the dummy device group. Significant lower values were measured for blood lactate (1.9 ± 0.2 vs. 2.5 ± 0.5 mM/L) from 16 hours, creatinine (1.5 ± 0.2 vs. 2.0 ± 0.3 mg/dL) from 40 hours and ammonia (273 ± 122 vs. 1345 ± 700 μg/dL) from 48 hours after hepatectomy until death. A significant rise of endotoxin levels indicated the onset of sepsis at time of death in 60% (3/5) of the dummy device group animals surviving beyond 60 hours from hepatectomy.


Episodes of slight hypothermia induced by cyclic connection to the extracorporeal dummy device produced a significant survival benefit of more than 20 hours through organ protection and hemodynamic stabilisation. Animal studies which focus on a survival benefit generated by liver assist devices should especially address the aspect of slight transient hypothermia by extracorporeal cooling.