Individuals with primary or secondary abnormalities of iron metabolism, such as hereditary hemochromatosis and transfusional iron loading, may develop potentially lethal systemic iron overload. Over time, this excess iron is progressively deposited in the liver, heart, pancreas, and other organs, resulting in cirrhosis, heart disease, diabetes and other disorders. Unless treated, death usually results from cardiac failure. The amount of iron in the liver is the best indicator of the amount of iron in the whole body. At present, the only sure way to measure the amount of iron in the liver is to remove a sample of the liver by biopsy. Iron stored in the liver can be magnetized to a small degree when placed in a magnetic field. The amount of magnetization is measured by our instrument, called a superconducting quantum interference device (SQUID) susceptometer. In patients with iron overload, our previous studies have shown that magnetic measurements of liver iron in patients with iron overload are quantitatively equivalent to biochemical determinations on tissue obtained by biopsy. The safety, ease, rapidity, and comfort of magnetic measurements make frequent, serial studies technically feasible and practically acceptable to patients.
Iron overloadNon-invasive measurementMagnetic susceptibilitySQUID