Magnetic resonance elastography (MRE) employs standard MRI equipment along with a small vibrating pad that is placed on the surface of the body. The pad is set to vibrate at a specific frequency to generate mechanical waves that move into the body. The waves move through harder and softer tissues at different rates. After the examination, a computer program creates a color-coded map (elastogram) showing the stiffness in various areas of the body.
Mayo Clinic uses magnetic resonance elastography primarily to detect liver fibrosis caused by many types of liver disease. Early stages of fibrosis are treatable. Once fibrosis progresses to cirrhosis, when the liver becomes rock hard, the disease can be irreversible. Magnetic resonance elastography is helpful for determining the stage of the disease and in monitoring the effectiveness of treatment. MRE offers a noninvasive alternative to taking a sample of liver tissue via a needle biopsy, which is an invasive, expensive and potentially risky procedure.
Mayo researchers have studied use of MRE in people who have fatty liver disease, a common and growing problem. Some of these people will progress to a more serious form of the disease, called steatohepatitis. One recent study reported that MRE could help detect abnormal liver stiffness in people with steatohepatitis even before fibrosis begins. The results suggest that MRE may be a useful tool for identifying people who could most benefit from early treatment.
MRE has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Mayo is now commercializing this technology so that it will soon be available to people around the world.