MR-compatible bioartificial liver (BAL) studies have been performed for 30 years and are reviewed. There are two types of study: (i) metabolism and drug studies using multinuclear MRS; primarily short-term (< 8 h) studies; (ii) the use of multinuclear MRS and MRI to noninvasively define the features and functions of BAL systems for long-term liver tissue engineering. In the latter, these systems often undergo not only modification of the perfusion system, but also the construction of MR radiofrequency probes around the bioreactor. We present novel MR-compatible BALs and the use of multinuclear MRS (13C, 19F, 31P) for the noninvasive monitoring of their growth, metabolism and viability, as well as 1H MRI methods for the determination of flow profiles, diffusion, cell distribution, quality assurance and bioreactor integrity. Finally, a simple flexible coil design and circuit, and life support system, are described that can make almost any BAL MR-compatible. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.