Magnetic resonance elastography (MRE) is a rapidly developing technology for quantitatively assessing the mechanical properties of tissue. The technology can be considered to be an imaging-based counterpart to palpation, commonly used by physicians to diagnose and characterize diseases. The success of palpation as a diagnostic method is based on the fact that the mechanical properties of tissues are often dramatically affected by the presence of disease processes, such as cancer, inflammation, and fibrosis. MRE obtains information about the stiffness of tissue by assessing the propagation of mechanical waves through the tissue with a special magnetic resonance imaging technique. The technique essentially involves three steps: (1) generating shear waves in the tissue, (2) acquiring MR images depicting the propagation of the induced shear waves, and (3) processing the images of the shear waves to generate quantitative maps of tissue stiffness, called elastograms. MRE is already being used clinically for the assessment of patients with chronic liver diseases and is emerging as a safe, reliable, and noninvasive alternative to liver biopsy for staging hepatic fibrosis. MRE is also being investigated for application to pathologies of other organs including the brain, breast, blood vessels, heart, kidneys, lungs, and skeletal muscle. The purpose of this review article is to introduce this technology to clinical anatomists and to summarize some of the current clinical applications that are being pursued.
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