Most bioartificial liver (BAL) devices contain porcine primary hepatocytes as their biological component. However, alternatives are needed due to xenotransplantation associated risks. Human liver cell lines have excellent growth characteristics and are therefore candidates for application in BAL devices. Tumour-derived cell lines HepG2 and C3A express a variety of liver functions, but some specific liver functions, like ammonia detoxification and ureagenesis are insufficient. Immortalised human hepatocytes might offer better prospects. The balance between immortalisation and transformation with dedifferentiation of cells seems controllable by conditional immortalisation and/or the use of telomerase as immortalising agent. Another promising approach will be the use of embryonic or adult human stem cells. Rodent stem cells have been directed to hepatic differentiation in vitro, which might be applicable to human stem cells. However, both functionality and safety of immortalised human liver cell lines and differentiated stem cells should be improved before successful use in BAL devices becomes reality.