We have used an anhepatic dog model to demonstrate the efficacy of a bioartificial liver assist device. Six dogs underwent total hepatectomy. Three received only medical care (controls) while the remainder were connected to an extracorporeal liver assist device (ELAD). The control dogs failed to regain consciousness after anesthesia although all lived 4-5 h postoperatively. Plasma ammonia concentration increased by an average of 250 mumol/L between the end of surgery and the demise of the animals. The treated dogs lived 3-12.5 h, and 2 of them required repeated doses of thiamylal sodium to maintain sedation. Plasma ammonia concentration was unchanged after connection to the ELAD except in the longest survivor, whose ammonia began to rise after 8 h on the ELAD. The short survival in the other 2 treated dogs was the result of uncontrolled intraabdominal bleeding. This device is capable of replacing the metabolic function of the liver, and might provide hepatic support in patients awaiting transplantation or in fulminant hepatic failure.