Noninvasive 3D imaging tool improves liver imaging and reduces need for biopsies

Researchers at the University of California San Diego have developed a new 3D imaging method capable of imaging the liver in greater detail and identifying advanced fibrosis, reducing the need for invasive biopsy procedures, according to results of a study recently published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology.

The prevalence of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)—a group of liver disorders that includes advanced fibrosis that are caused by the buildup of extra fat in liver cells—is on the rise, with an estimated one-third of Americans currently suffering from the condition.

While the current standard for detecting advanced fibrosis of the liver is biopsy, the procedure is often inconclusive and can cause adverse side effects include bleeding, pain and death.

This fact led researchers from the University’s NAFLD Research Center to conduct a prospective study on 100 patients with biopsy-confirmed NAFLD to assess the effectiveness of a new imaging method called 3D magnetic resonance elastography (MRE)—a specialized MRI process that propagates mechanical shear waves in liver tissue—in identifying and diagnosing advanced liver fibrosis.

Their results showed that 3D MRE was highly accurate for diagnosing advanced fibrosis, offering improved assessment of spatial patterns and the ability to diagnose larger volumes of tissue than the 2D version of the technology.

“3D MRE is probably the most accurate non-invasive method to detect advanced fibrosis,” said lead author Rohit Loomba, MD, in a university press release. “These findings suggest that MRE could be used to enroll patients with advanced fibrosis into screening programs for cirrhosis as well as enrollment into clinical trials aimed at reversing fibrosis in the setting of advanced fibrosis.”