Fatty liver: 3D liver scan revolutionizes diagnosis of liver diseases

Fatty liver: 3D liver scan revolutionizes diagnosis of liver diseases

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New diagnostic procedure: high-resolution 3D representation of the liver

A research team from Dresden developed a new diagnostic method to better detect the widespread non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Thanks to the latest computer technology and multi-photon microscopy and improved methods to increase the transparency of tissue, it is now possible to digitally display a high-resolution 3D model of the liver.

Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, the University Hospital Carl Gustav Carus and the Technical University of Dresden have jointly developed a new diagnostic method for the detection of liver diseases. The new diagnosis enables a patient's liver to be shown in detail in a 3D model. The new diagnosis was recently presented in the renowned journal "Nature Medicine".

Almost every fourth person has fatty liver

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is widespread and one of the most common liver diseases worldwide. In wealthy countries such as Germany, where the diet is characterized by fat and sugar, around every fourth person develops a fatty liver in the course of life.

Life-threatening complications

With a non-alcoholic fatty liver, fat accumulates in the liver. This goes hand in hand with increasing insulin resistance. Depending on the severity of the disease, fatty liver goes through several stages. It can spread to non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (fatty liver hepatitis), which can lead to cirrhosis, liver cancer or liver failure. The serious complications are sometimes life-threatening and may require a transplant.

Fatty liver is curable

The liver has extremely effective regeneration capabilities. As long as there is no permanent damage, a fatty liver can regress. As a rule, this is possible through healthy lifestyle interventions. The only problem here is that most people do not even know that they have fatty liver, because the disease does not cause any clear symptoms.

Fatty liver is difficult to diagnose

So far, there are insufficient methods to detect fatty liver disease. A histological analysis of the liver tissue currently provides the best results. Tissue samples are taken from the liver and examined under the microscope. However, this diagnostic procedure is complex, depending on the abilities of the doctor, uncomfortable for those affected and only allows a two-dimensional view of the liver.

Structure of the liver

The liver consists of functional units, the so-called liver lobes, which are composed of two interlocking networks: the sinusoids and the biliary canals. The sinusoids enable the blood to flow through the liver and the bile ducts to produce bile secretion and bile flow. This complex three-dimensional structure has so far made the diagnosis of fatty liver difficult.

A spatial representation of the liver is possible for the first time

This is where the Dresden researchers started. In order to be able to better assess the condition of the liver in the future, they developed a method with which the liver can be displayed in three dimensions. The team led by Max Planck Director Marino Zerial combined modern computer technology with advanced multi-photon microscopy. "Thanks to advances in multi-photon microscopy and improved methods to increase the transparency of tissue, we can image thicker tissue sections with high resolution and thus obtain spatial information," reports student author Fabián Segovia-Miranda.

Medicine meets computer technology

With the help of the method, the liver of a target person can be digitally reconstructed on the computer. Using this high-resolution 3-D liver model, doctors can simulate the dynamics of bile for the first time. "While the flow dynamics of the blood flow through the comparatively large capillaries had already been investigated using computer simulations, this has so far been impossible for bile because there was a lack of precise geometric data on human tissue across all relevant scales simultaneously," adds Lutz Brusch from the Center for Information Services and high performance computing.

New knowledge about fatty liver

With the new display option, the team was able to identify a number of cell and tissue parameters that are related to the progression of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. "We found that the structure of the 3D bile duct network in the diseased tissue is completely different," explains the study author. Such structural changes would also have a decisive functional impact. For example, so-called micro-cholestases could be uncovered, in which only smaller areas of the liver are affected.

"High-resolution medicine paves the way for the diagnosis of diseases at an early stage, long before symptoms appear," adds Jochen Hampe from Dresden University Hospital. The three-dimensional analysis of the liver tissue allows completely new insights into the disease mechanisms. This is a big step for new insights, approaches and therapies. (vb)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Graduate editor (FH) Volker Blasek


  • Max Planck Society: 3D model of the liver improves diagnosis (accessed: 03.12.2019),
  • Fabián Segovia-Miranda, Hernán Morales-Navarrete, Michael Kücken, u.a .: 3D spatially-resolved geometrical and functional models of human liver tissue reveal new aspects of NAFLD progression. Nature medicine; December, 2019,

Video: GI Imaging - Hepatic Steatosis and Cirrhosis (August 2022).