About the Liver

To better understand the Pediatric Liver Transplantation Program at Lurie Children’s, a review of liver function may ​​be helpful.

Your liver, which is the larg​est solid organ in your body, plays a vital role in regulating life processes. This complex organ performs many functions essential to life. You cannot live without it. 

The liver, located behind the low​er ribs on the right side of your abdomen, weighs about three pounds a​nd in the adult, is roughly the size of a football. 

Primary Liver Functions

  • ​Converting food into chemicals necessary for life and growth
  • Manufacturing and exporting important substances used by the rest of the body
  • Processing drugs absorbed from the digestive tract into forms that are easier for the body to use
  • Detoxifying and excreting substances that would otherwise be poisonous
  • Regulating cholesterol

Other Liver Functions

  • ​Producing quick energy when it is needed  
  • Manufacturing new body proteins
  • Preventing shortages in body fuel by storing certain vitamins, minerals and sugars
  • Regulating transport of fat stores  
  • Regulating blood clotting  
  • Aiding in the digestive process by producing bile 
  • Controlling the production and excretion of cholesterol  
  • Neutralizing and destroying poisonous substances  
  • Metabolizing alcohol 
  • Monitoring and maintaining the proper level of many chemicals and drugs in the blood 
  • Cleansing the blood and discharging waste products into bile  
  • Maintaining hormone balance  
  • Serving as the main organ of blood formation before birth  
  • Helping the body resist infection by producing immune factors and by removing bacteria from the bloodstream 
  • Regenerating its own damaged tissue  
  • Storing iron

Liver Disease​ in Children 

Serious liver disease affects approximately one in every 2,500 children in the United States. Illnesses ​such as biliary atresia (the most prevalent form of lethal chronic liver disease that strikes infants), acute viral hepatitis and other serious conditions can erode liver function leading to a spectrum of clinical problems ranging from impaired growth and development to death. 

Less than 15 years ago, most young children diagnosed with biliary atresia died before the age of two because they were considered too small to receive a liver transplant. Now, infants with this condition are routinely transplanted with high success rates. A major hurdle to overcome has been the scarcity of donors in this age group. This has led to advances in both cadaveric​ and living donor transplants.