Researchers have developed a diagnostic tool, based on nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), that could be used to detect fatty liver disease or liver fibrosis.
“Since it’s a non-invasive test, you could screen people even before they have obvious symptoms of the compromised liver, and you would be able to say which of these patients had fibrosis,” said study author Michael Cima from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US.
The device, which is small enough to fit on a table, uses NMR to measure how water diffuses through tissue, which can reveal how much fat is present in the tissue.
This kind of diagnostic, which has thus far been tested on mice, could help doctors catch the fatty liver disease before it progresses to fibrosis, the study published in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering said.
Fatty liver disease occurs when liver cells store too much fat. This leads to inflammation and eventually fibrosis, a build-up of scar tissue that can cause jaundice and liver cirrhosis, and eventually liver failure.
Fibrosis is usually not diagnosed until the patient begins to experience symptoms that include not only jaundice but also fatigue and abdominal swelling.