Magnetic resonance elastography has been talked about for a while (1). Now, thanks to research from Mayo Clinic, it might finally offer a clinical opportunity. The question was raised whether it can diagnose liver fibrosis, so patients can avoid a percutaneous or an open liver biopsy:
Traditionally, liver fibrosis is usually diagnosed using needle biopsies, which can involve complications and may be inaccurate due to sampling errors. The new technology promises to provide an accurate, painless, and lower risk alternative to liver biopsy and may have implications for diagnosing cancer. These research findings appeared in the journal Radiology.
The healthy liver is very soft compared to most other tissues and especially compared to a liver with cirrhosis, which is rock hard. The development by Dr. Ehman and his colleagues applies vibrations to the liver and then utilizes a modified form of MRI to obtain pictures of the mechanical waves passing through the organ. The imaging can be accomplished in as little as 20 seconds. The wave pictures are then processed to generate a quantitative image of tissue stiffness — called an elastogram.
Researchers compared results of the process on 12 patients with biopsy-proven liver fibrosis with those of 12 healthy participants. This pilot trial of MRE showed strikingly elevated stiffness in patients with fibrosis and that the stiffness increased with the progression of the condition.