Growth and development of a new subspecialty: Pediatric hepatology


  • William F. Balistreri

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Pediatrics, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, Pediatric Liver Care Center, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center (CCHMC), Cincinnati, OH
    • Address reprint requests to: William F. Balistreri, M.D., 3333 Burnet Ave., MLC 2010, Cincinnati, OH, 45229. E-mail:

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  • Potential conflict of interest: Nothing to report.


Several major forces converged to catalyze the formal emergence of a body of knowledge and an organized focus on disorders of the liver in early life. Attendant to the development of a focused clinical subspecialty the pace of patient- and laboratory-based research in the field quickened in parallel to decipher the consequences of genetic or metabolic aberrations on immature liver structure and function. The key research observations that catalyzed the emergence and subsequent rapid growth of Pediatric Hepatology include: (1) an understanding of the dynamic events occurring during hepatobiliary development and the importance of these physiologic variables that occur during liver maturation; (2) the recognition of the unique nature of inherited and acquired liver diseases that affect infants and children—such as biliary atresia and Reye's syndrome; and (3) redefinition of the once obscure inherited intrahepatic cholestatic diseases of the liver, which, in turn, provided insight into normal and abnormal hepatobiliary physiology. The clinical advances were highlighted by the development of specific approaches to the diagnosis and management of liver disease in infants and children, including both liver transplantation and nontransplant treatment options. These seminal events led to the expansion of the workforce, creating a critical mass consisting of individuals with focused, specialized skills and techniques. In-depth expertise allowed more accurate diagnosis and highly effective treatment strategies for advanced hepatobiliary disease in children. The demand for pediatric clinicians with experience in advanced hepatology allowed sub-sub-specialization to flourish. Continued maturation of the field led to definition of hepatology-focused curricular elements and educational content for Pediatric Gastroenterology training programs, and subsequently the development of program requirements for those who wished to acquire additional training in Pediatric Hepatology. A significant rite of passage was marked by the election of pediatric hepatologists to leadership positions in the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases (AASLD). Further validation of the field occurred with approval of the petition for establishing a Certificate of Added Qualification in Transplant Hepatology by the American Board of Pediatrics. Here I relate my perspective on the history of the advances in our field and the contributions of many of the clinicians and scientists whose efforts led to the development of focused clinical, research, and training programs that improved the care of children with diseases of the liver. (Hepatology 2013;58:458-476)