Modified device offers non-invasive way to detect liver fibrosis

December 7, 2020

Liver fibrosis is a condition whereby too much scar tissue or fat cells (fatty liver disease) accumulate within the organ, causing inflammation and other serious conditions. The current method of diagnosis for liver fibrosis is often too late, and involves an invasive procedure; thankfully, scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), US, have developed a device that is able to non-invasively detect signs of the condition, with a high degree of accuracy.

The device has adaptations of a technology originally developed to measure hydration levels in patients undergoing dialysis. The MIT scientists modified the device to incorporate nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) to detect changes in the magnetism of hydrogen atoms of water in the tissue. Water moves more slowly when it interacts with fatty tissue or scar tissue – the device was expected to pick up minute fluid level changes in the liver and surrounding tissue.

Using a small NMR detector, the scientists were able to scan to depths of around 6 mm (0.23 in) below the surface of the skin of mice, which was enough to analyse their liver and skeletal muscle. The device proved capable of identifying fibrosis with an accuracy of 86% and fatty liver disease with an accuracy of 92% in mice; in human liver tissue, it detected fibrosis with 93% accuracy.

The scientists are now working on a version of the device that will be able to penetrate deeper into the skin, which they say will be necessary for testing on human patients. If this works, it could offer a way of detecting fibrosis in its early stages, leaving the door open for more effective treatments.

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Category: Features, Technology & Devices

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