The Non-Invasive Liver Biopsy : Determining Hepatic Function in Diffuse and Focal LiverDisease

Abstract: The liver is one of the largest organs within the human body and it handles many vital tasks such as nutrient processing, toxin removal, and synthesis of important proteins. The number of people suffering from chronic liver disease is on the rise, likely due to the present ‘western’ lifestyle. As disease develops in the liver there are pathophysiological manifestations within the liver parenchyma that are both common and important to monitor. These manifestations include inflammation, fatty infiltration (steatosis), excessive scar tissue formation (fibrosis and cirrhosis), and iron loading. Importantly, as the disease progresses there is concurrent loss of liver function. Furthermore, postoperative liver function insufficiency is an important concern when planning surgical treatment of the liver, because it is associated with both morbidity and mortality. Liver function can also be hampered due to drug-induced injuries, an important aspect to consider in drug-development.Currently, an invasive liver needle biopsy is required to determine the aetiology and to stage or grade the pathophysiological manifestations. There are important limitations with the biopsy, which include, risk of serious complications, mortality, morbidity, inter- and intra-observer variability, sampling error, and sampling variability. Cleary, it would be beneficial to be able investigate the pathophysiological manifestations accurately, non-invasively, and on regional level.Current available laboratory liver function blood panels are typically insufficient and often only indicate damage at a late stage. Thus, it would be beneficial to have access to biomarkers that are both sensitive and responds to early changes in liver function in both clinical settings and for the pharmaceutical industry and regulatory agencies.The main aim of this thesis was to develop and evaluate methods that can be used for a ‘non-invasive liver biopsy’ using magnetic resonance (MR). We also aimed to develop sensitive methods for measure liver function based on gadoxetate-enhanced MR imaging (MRI).The presented work is primarily based on a prospective study on c. 100 patients suffering from chronic liver disease of varying aetiologies recruited due to elevated liver enzyme levels, without clear signs of decompensated cirrhosis. Our results show that the commonly used liver fat cut-off for diagnosing steatosis should be lowered from 5% to 3% when using MR proton-density fat fraction (PDFF). We also show that MR elastography (MRE) is superior in staging fibrosis.Finally we presented a framework for quantifying liver function based on gadoxetate-enhanced MRI. The method is based on clinical images and a clinical approved contrast agent (gadoxetate). The framework consists of; state-of the-art image reconstruction and correction methods, a mathematical model, and a precise model parametrization method. The model was developed and validated on healthy subjects. Thereafter the model was found applicable on the chronic liver disease cohort as well as validated using gadoxetate levels in biopsy samples and blood samples. The liver function parameters correlated with clinical markers for liver function and liver fibrosis (used as a surrogate marker for liver function).In summary, it should be possible to perform a non-invasive liver biopsy using: MRI-PDFF for liver fat and iron loading, MRE for liver fibrosis and possibly also inflammation, and measure liver function using the presented framework for analysing gadoxetate-enhanced MRI. With the exception of an MREtransducer no additional hardware is required on the MR scanner. The liver function method is likely to be useful both in a clinical setting and in pharmaceutical trials.

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