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.

About

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.

  • Experience. Mayo Clinic doctors and scientists invented MRE and have the world's greatest experience with the technique, using it on more than 2,000 people. It is available at all three Mayo Clinic locations.
  • Early detection. Magnetic resonance elastography can accurately identify liver hardening (fibrosis) at an early stage, when treatment can still be effective.
  • Noninvasive. MRE offers a noninvasive alternative to taking a sample of liver tissue (biopsy), the only other way to identify liver hardening. Magnetic resonance elastography is easier, more comfortable, safer and less costly.
  • Latest knowledge. Mayo imaging researchers are working with doctors from many specialties to improve this new technique and explore applications in other diseases, including Alzheimer's, heart failure and breast cancer.

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Specialists in radiology perform magnetic resonance elastography at the request of a Mayo specialist, usually from gastroenterology.

For appointments or more information, call the Central Appointment Office at 800-446-2279 (toll-free) 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mountain Standard Time, Monday through Friday or complete an online appointment request form.

Specialists in radiology perform magnetic resonance elastography at the request of a Mayo specialist, usually from gastroenterology.

For appointments or more information, call the Central Appointment Office at 904-953-0853 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday or complete an online appointment request form.

Specialists in radiology perform magnetic resonance elastography at the request of a Mayo specialist, usually from gastroenterology.

For appointments or more information, call the Central Appointment Office at 507-538-3270 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Central time, Monday through Friday or complete an online appointment request form.

See information on patient services at the three Mayo Clinic locations, including transportation options and lodging.

Imaging scientists at Mayo Clinic, led by Richard L. Ehman, M.D., have been working to develop magnetic resonance elastography (MRE) for more than a decade. Today, they're collaborating with doctors from a variety of specialties at Mayo, and other researchers around the world, to develop, validate, explore and identify high-impact applications of this new imaging technique.

Among the projects being pursued by Mayo researchers are:

  • Alzheimer's disease — Mayo researchers have been exploring the potential for MRE to show changes in brain mechanical properties associated with Alzheimer's disease, potentially leading to new diagnostic methods for detecting this condition at an earlier stage.
  • Brain tumors — Mayo researchers are testing MRE for evaluating brain tumors, as an aid to surgical planning.
  • Breast cancer — Researchers are working on distinguishing benign from cancerous tumors with MRE.
  • Heart disease — Mayo investigators have adapted MRE to assess the mechanical properties of the heart and are studying the potential use of this technology to help in diagnosis of heart failure.
  • Lung disease — Mayo scientists are investigating the possibility that MRE may provide new ways to assess interstitial lung disease.
  • Musculoskeletal disease — The Biomechanics and Motion Analysis Laboratories use MRE to measure the stiffness of muscle to noninvasively study the tension of muscle in normal and disease states.

Publications

See a list of publications by Mayo doctors on magnetic resonance elastography on PubMed, a service of the National Library of Medicine.

Aug. 30, 2011