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Medical research: Imaging liver fibrosis

Nature Communications

October 30, 2019

A non-invasive imaging method for the early detection of liver fibrosis and the assessment of its severity in mouse models is presented in Nature Communications this week.

Many chronic liver diseases can evolve into hepatic cirrhosis, a late-stage fibrosis that severely damages the structure and function of the liver, characterized by the excessive accumulation of extracellular matrix. Death rates due to chronic liver disease and cirrhosis increased by 31% in the United States from 2000 to 2015 among people aged 45 - 64 years. Detecting fibrosis at an early stage and determining its severity is key to halt its progression and plan treatment, but non-invasive, accurate methods are needed and biopsy remains the gold standard.

Jenny Yang and colleagues developed a contrast agent for magnetic resonance imaging that binds to collagen, a component of the extracellular matrix, with high affinity. The contrast agent allows the non-invasive detection of collagen and the differentiation of early- versus late-stage fibrosis in mouse models of alcohol-, diet- and chemical-induced liver disease. Additionally, it allows the monitoring of the regression of fibrosis in mice following treatment with the anti-fibrotic drug, pirfenidone.

If further validated in additional animal and human experiments, the developed contrast agent might help overcome the obstacles to the non-invasive and accurate detection of liver fibrosis, improving diagnosis and allowing the monitoring of treatment efficacy.

doi: 10.1038/s41467-019-11984-2

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