UW Liver Imaging Research Program Makes Strides

Posted on August 2014

UW’s Liver Imaging Research Program (LIRP) has had a high-profile spring, with a strong showing at ISMRM 2014, in addition to receiving a $2 million R01 National Institutes of Health grant for research in image-based quantification of liver iron content. Led by Professor Scott B. Reeder, M.D., Ph.D., the lab specializes in translational research, guiding improvements in abdominal imaging from inception to clinical use.

“There’s technical innovation on one end, and a whole translational pipeline where this technical innovation becomes a clinical tool,” said Assistant Scientist Diego Hernando, Ph.D., a member of the LIRP. “Most projects start either because there’s a clinical need we identify and believe we can address, and other times the research stems from technological advances we think we can utilize in imaging.”

The current focus of Hernando’s work is the quantification of hepatic iron overload. Excessive iron content in the liver is toxic, and the measurement of liver iron is critical for the detection of iron overload, as well as for monitoring iron-reducing therapy. The need for an improved method of image-based liver iron measurement was identified by the LIRP several years ago, and has resulted in promising technical developments over the course of the project, according to Hernando. After successful preliminary validation at UW, the group is leading a multi-center study to establish the reproducibility of novel iron quantification techniques across multiple sites, MRI vendors and platforms. Learn more about hepatic iron quantification.

Even further along the pipeline is a research project involving image-based quantification of hepatic steatotis, an MRI method intended to replace liver biopsy as the gold standard for diagnosis of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). While biopsy is not conducive to repeated measurements, an MRI-based examination can be performed as many times as needed. “This has been one of Scott Reeder’s main research products since his days at Stanford and his arrival at UW,” said Hernando. These imaging techniques have undergone validation studies at different sites, and are currently a purchasable option for GE scanners worldwide.

At a much earlier stage in the development spectrum is a project aimed at creating MRI techniques unaffected by the presence of metal. A group of researchers within the LIRP have developed algorithms that are insensitive to the perturbations in the magnetic field caused by the presence of metal. The techniques under development by LIRP are highly promising, with current engineering efforts aimed at producing high quality images in shorter scan times, according to Hernando.

Read more about the LIRP.