Diffuse liver disease like steatosis, fibrosis or cirrhosis, as well as diffuse vascular liver pathologies like portal hypertension are an increasing cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide, especially liver steatosis which may lead to liver fibrosis and consecutively to liver cirrhosis. Early stages of diffuse liver disease, especially fibrosis, are considered as partially reversible when the underlying disease can be treated during an early stage of fibrosis. There is a strong need for imaging technologies which are able to detect and accurately diagnose early diffuse liver pathologies. Current clinical modalities like magnetic resonance imaging and computed tomography are only able to diagnose the final stages of these pathologies while earlier stages remain occult.
The aim of this research project is to produce proof-of-concept of the high potential of X-ray Phase Contrast Imaging (PCI) for an accurate detection of diffuse liver pathologies at early stages. X-ray PCI is a power tool which provides enhanced image contrast and resolution with respect to conventional imaging diagnostic methods. We intend to demonstrate that PCI can directly visualize in detail and with high sensitivity even small amounts of deposition of extracellular matrix, as well as vascular changes in the liver. To this end, a multi (nano- and micro-) scale study in which PCI computed tomography data sets are acquired for specimens of different stages of liver fibrosis and cirrhosis, as well as for different stages of vascular liver pathologies (e.g. portal hypertension) has been designed. The development and application of advanced technical and image processing are needed in order to obtain unprecedented insights into the liver tissue in both healthy and pathological conditions. The expected results will produce unique knowledge also for the optimization of treatment strategies.