New diagnostic tool can detect scarred or fatty liver tissue

Michael Cima has a new paper published in Nature Biomedical Engineering on a diagnostic device based on nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) that can be used to diagnose and monitor liver disease.

“Since it’s a noninvasive test, you could screen people even before they have obvious symptoms of compromised liver, and you would be able to say which of these patients had fibrosis,” says Cima.

In a study of mice, the researchers showed that their detector could identify fibrosis with 86 percent accuracy, and fatty liver disease with 92 percent accuracy. It takes about 10 minutes to obtain the results, but the researchers are now working on improving the signal-to-noise ratio of the detector, which could help to reduce the amount of time it takes. The current version of the sensor can scan to a depth of about 6 millimeters below the skin, which is enough to monitor the mouse liver or human skeletal muscle. The researchers are now working on designing a new version that can penetrate deeper below the tissue, to allow them to test the liver diagnosis application in human patients.

If this type of NMR sensor could be developed for use in patients, it could help to identify people in danger of developing fibrosis, or in the early stages of fibrosis, so they could be treated earlier, Cima says. Fibrosis can’t be reversed, but it can be halted or slowed down through dietary changes and exercise. Having this type of diagnostic available could also aid in drug development efforts, because it could allow doctors to more easily identify patients with fibrosis and monitor their response to potential new treatments, Cima says.

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