Liver cell transplantation may provide a means to replace lost or deficient liver tissue, but devices capable of delivering hepatocytes to a desirable anatomic location and guiding the development of a new tissue from these cells and the host tissue are needed. We have investigated whether sponges fabricated from poly-L-lactic acid (PLA) infiltrated with polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) would meet these requirements. Highly porous sponges (porosity = 90-95%) were fabricated from PLA using a particulate leaching technique. To enable even and efficient cell seeding, the devices were infiltrated with the hydrophilic polymer polyvinyl alcohol (PVA). This reduced their contact angle with water from 79 to 23 degrees, but did not inhibit the ability of hepatocytes to adhere to the polymer. Porous sponges of PLA infiltrated with PVA readily absorbed aqueous solutions into 98% of their pore volume, and could be evenly seeded with high densities (5 x 10(7) cells/mL) of hepatocytes. Hepatocyte-seeded devices were implanted into the mesentery of laboratory rats, and 6 +/- 2 x 10(5) of the hepatocytes engrafted per sponge. Fibrovascular tissue invaded through the devices' pores, leading to a composite tissue consisting of hepatocytes, blood vessels and fibrous tissue, and the polymer sponge.