Liver function testing with nuclear medicine techniques is coming of age

Roelof J. Bennink, Mark Tulchinsky, Wilmar De Graaf, Zakiyah Kadry, Thomas M. Van Gulik

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Liver function is a broad term, as the organ participates in a multitude of different physiological and biochemical processes, including metabolic, synthetic, and detoxifying functions. However, it is the function of the hepatocyte that is central to sustaining normal life and dealing with disease states. When the liver begins to fail in severely ill patients, it forecasts a terminal outcome. However, unlike the glomerular filtration rate which clearly quantifies the key renal function, at most practice sites, there is no clinically available quantitative test for liver function. Although it is commonplace to assess indirect evidence of that function (by measuring blood levels of its end products and by-products) and to detect an acute injury (by following rising transaminases), a widely available test that would directly measure hepatocellular function is lacking. This article reviews current knowledge on liver function studies and focuses on those nuclear medicine tests available to study the whole liver and regional liver function. The clinical application driving these tests, prediction of remnant liver function after partial hepatectomy for primary liver malignancy or metastatic disease, is addressed here in detail. The test was recently validated for this specific application and was shown to be better than the current standard of practice (computed tomography volumetry), particularly in patients with hepatic comorbidities like cirrhosis, steatosis, or cholestasis. Furthermore, early assessment of regional liver function increase after preoperative portal vein embolization becomes possible with this technology. The limiting factor to a wider acceptance of this test is based on the lack of clinical software that would allow calculation of liver function parameters. This article provides information that enables a clinical nuclear medicine facility to provide this test using readily available equipment. Furthermore, it addresses emerging clinical applications that are under investigation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)124-137
Number of pages14
JournalSeminars in Nuclear Medicine
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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