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Magnetic Resonance Elastography May Alleviate the Need for Invasive Liver Biopsies

Investigators at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, have developed magnetic resonance (MR) elastography as an alternative to liver biopsies to noninvasively measure fibrosis, or stiffness, of the liver and other internal organs.

MR elastography is based on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), a noninvasive technique that uses radio waves and magnets to create images of internal organs and tissues. Development of MR elastography was led by Richard L. Ehman, M.D., and funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). MR elastography offers patients multiple advantages over biopsy examination, including less discomfort, a much lower risk of complications, and lower cost.

Nearly 200,000 Americans are hospitalized each year for chronic liver disease. Typically, a biopsy is used to diagnose and evaluate the liver for signs of fibrosis. For a biopsy, the doctor uses a needle to take a tiny sample of liver tissue and then examines it with a microscope for scarring or other signs of disease.

According to Ehman, MR elastography has already made a substantial difference in patient care. Ehman gave the example of a hemophilia patient who previously contracted hepatitis C from a blood transfusion. Liver biopsy was not an option due to the risk of hemorrhage. Instead, MR elastography was used to assess the presence of hepatitis-associated fibrosis. In this case, results indicated fibrosis and the individual soon began antiviral therapy.

Research suggests MR elastography could also be used to improve breast cancer detection by helping to distinguish benign masses from fibrocystic disease from cancerous masses.

 

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