Molecular Imaging in Hepatology

Hepatology is the branch of medicine that incorporates the study of liver, gallbladder, biliary tree, and pancreas as well as management of their disorders. Although traditionally considered a sub-specialty of gastroenterology, rapid expansion has led in some countries to doctors specializing solely on this area, who are called hepatologists.

The liver is the largest organ of the body and has multiple functions such as secretory/excretory, circulatory, storage and metabolic functions. Many different types of diseases can affect the liver function, such as viral diseases (Hepatitis A, B, C and E), alcoholic liver disease, cancer, etc.

The liver is responsible for many critical functions within the body, so when it is diseased, the decrease in function can cause significant damage to the body.

Diseases and complications related to viral hepatitis and alcohol are the main reason for seeking specialist advice. More than 2 billion people have been infected with Hepatitis B virus at some point in their life, and approximately 350 million have become persistent carriers. Up to 80% of liver cancers can be attributed to either hepatitis B or Hepatitis C virus. In terms of mortality, the former is second only to smoking among known agents causing cancer. With more widespread implementation of vaccination and strict screening before blood transfusion, lower infection rates are expected in the future. In many countries, though, overall alcohol consumption is increasing, and consequently the number of people with cirrhosis and other related complications is commensurately increasing.

Several imaging modalities can be used to image the liver. For example, CT, MR and ultrasound imaging allow the visualization of the vascularization, the detection of tumor metastasis, or the assessment of the gallbladder and bile ducts. SPECT imaging can also be used for functional liver imaging to assess the liver regeneration of lobes [2].


  2. Tseng et al. Significance of insulin signaling in liver regeneration triggered by portal vein ligation. J Surg Res, 2011, 166(1):77-86.