Adults receiving respiratory Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) have 66% survival. Nonsurvivors develop multisystem organ failure (MSOF). Once hepatic failure develops, death usually follows shortly. Serum bilirubin > 300 μmol/l predicted death with 87.8% sensitivity and 90.3% specificity in 41 adults who received ECMO in our institution during 1998 and 1999. No patients survive with a peak bilirubin > 400 μmol/l. The Molecular Adsorbent Recirculating System (MARS) is a cell-free extracorporeal liver support device; we hypothesized that using MARS in adult respiratory ECMO patients with a bilirubin > 300 μmol/l could improve survival in MSOF. The MARS was used in five such patients aged 19-56 who developed liver failure secondary to a respiratory illness. Mean peak bilirubin was 529 μmol/l and the lowest peak bilirubin was 436 μmol/l. Patients received between 1 and 8 MARS treatments, mean reduction in serum bilirubin for each patient ranging between 30 and 162 μmol/l. Two of five patients survived (40%), survivors showing the greatest reduction in serum bilirubin in response to MARS. All patients would have been expected to die according to our previous experience. We believe that MARS may prove a useful therapy for patients with MSOF.
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