Magnetic resonance elastography (MRE) is a new way to image the body. Magnetic resonance elastography combines MRI imaging with sound waves to create a visual map, or elastogram, showing the stiffness (elasticity) of body tissues. The new technique is used primarily to detect hardening of the liver caused by many kinds of liver disease. But it has potential as a noninvasive way to diagnose diseases in all parts of the body.


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 Advantages

  • Is noninvasive and does not require contrast media or ionizing radiation
  • Can eliminate the need for a painful and potentially risky biopsy
  • Is less costly than biopsy
  • Can identify organ changes consistent with fibrosis before these changes can be detected by conventional imaging
  • Shows greater sensitivity and accuracy for diagnosing liver fibrosis in people with suspected chronic liver disease, compared with existing noninvasive diagnostic techniques
  • Reveals tissue properties and other information that conventional imaging techniques do not
  • Provides immediate results — the technique can be performed in just seconds

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.

Aug. 30, 2011