Vivien Williams: Working in the yard is one way Vicky Cummings stays fit. She's always taken good care of her health. So when Vicky was diagnosed with hepatitis C, she was stunned.

Vicky Cummings: I was in shock.

Vivien Williams: It turns out she's likely had the virus since the day she was born. She says her mom got it from a blood transfusion during a medical procedure back in the 1960s, and unknowingly passed it onto her daughter during delivery.

Vicky Cummings: Like I said, I'm asymptomatic.

Vivien Williams: But to make sure her liver's not becoming stiff from fibrosis, which can lead to irreversible cirrhosis, Vicky's had a liver biopsy.

Vicky Cummings: Where they go in with a needle in between your ribs.

Vivien Williams: Uncomfortable and inconvenient.

Vicky Cummings: [INAUDIBLE] a lot on one of those days.

Vivien Williams: But Vicky has also had, and much prefers, a new test called magnetic resonance elastography, or MRE.

Richard Ehman, M.D., Diagnostic Radiology: MR elastography is a technique for imaging the mechanical properties of tissue.

Vivien Williams: Dr. Richard Ehman invented the technology. It uses MRI and low frequency mechanical vibrations and allows doctors to see the liver in a new way. It not only shows the structure of the liver, but it also shows the stiffness of the liver tissue. Other imaging techniques can't do that.

Richard Ehman, M.D.: The vibrations that we apply are not uncomfortable, and the risks associated with the exam would be those that would be associated with a MRI exam, which, in general, is a very safe procedure.

Vivien Williams: Here's how it works. A piece of equipment that looks like a little drum is placed on the patient's abdomen. The vibrations move through stiff tissue and supple tissue at different rates. A computer analyzes the differences and shows what's healthy, soft tissue and what's not. What the doctor sees is a color-coded image called an elastogram.

Richard Ehman, M.D.: The red would correspond to cirrhosis.

Vivien Williams: MRE is non-invasive, and it gives a picture of the entire liver, not just a sampling of one area, as is the case with biopsies.

Richard Ehman, M.D.: With a needle biopsy, we're taking a tiny, little thread of liver tissue and using that to represent the status of the whole liver. And you can see how, if we sample one area that was basically normal, it might not detect disease in other parts of the liver.

Vivien Williams: Being able to determine the status of the liver more comfortably and accurately will likely translate to more effective treatments for patients like Vicky. Her liver is still healthy, and she's grateful that MRE technology will help give doctors a more effective way to monitor her health. For Mayo Clinic News Network, I'm Vivien Williams.