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BACKGROUND: Noninvasive alternatives to biopsy for assessment of interstitial fibrosis and tubular atrophy (IFTA), the major determinant of kidney transplant failure, remain profoundly limited. Elastography is a noninvasive technique that propagates shear waves across tissues to measure their stiffness. We aimed to test utility of elastography for early detection of IFTA in pediatric kidney allografts.
METHODS: We compared ultrasound (USE) and MR elastography (MRE) stiffness measurements, performed on pediatric transplant recipients referred for clinically indicated biopsies, and healthy controls.
RESULTS: Ten transplant recipients (median age 16 years) and eight controls (median age 16.5 years) were enrolled. Three transplant recipients had "stable" allografts and seven had Banff Grade 1 IFTA. Median time from transplantation to biopsy was 12 months. Mean estimated glomerular filtration rate was 61.5 mL/min/1.73m by creatinine-cystatin-C CKiD equation at time of biopsy. Mean stiffness, calculated through one-way ANOVA, was higher for IFTA allografts (23.4 kPa USE/5.6 kPa MRE) than stable allografts (13.7 kPa USE/4.4 kPa MRE) and controls (9.1 kPa USE/3.6 kPa MRE). Pearson's coefficient between USE and MRE stiffness values was strong (r = .97). AUC for fibrosis prediction in transplanted kidneys was high for both modalities (0.91 USE and 0.89 MRE), although statistically nonsignificant (p > .05). Stiffness cut-off values for USE and MRE were 13.8 kPa and 4.6 kPa, respectively. Both values yielded a sensitivity of 100% but USE specificity (72%) was slightly higher than MRE (67%).
CONCLUSION: Elastography shows potential for detection of low-grade IFTA in allografts although a larger sample is imperative for clinical validation.