Material-Specific Computed Tomography for Molecular X-Imaging in Biomedical Research

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Virginia Tech

X-ray Computed Tomography (CT) imaging has been playing a central role in clinical practice since it was invented in 1972. However, the traditional x-ray CT technique fails to distinguish different materials with similar density, especially for biological tissues. The lack of a quantitative imaging representation has constrained the application of CT technique from a broadening application such as personal or precision medicine. Therefore, my major thesis statement is to develop novel material-specific CT imaging techniques for molecular imaging in biological bodies. To achieve the goal, comprehensive studies were conducted to investigate three different techniques: x-ray fluorescence molecular imaging, material identification (specification) from photon counting CT, and photon counting CT data distortion correction approach based on deep learning.

X-ray fluorescence molecular imaging (XFMI) has shown great promise as a low-cost molecular imaging modality for clinical and pre-clinical applications with high sensitivity. In this study, the effects of excitation beam spectrum on the molecular sensitivity of XFMI were experimentally investigated, by quantitatively deriving minimum detectable concentration (MDC) under a fixed surface entrance dose of 200 mR at three different excitation beam spectra. The result shows that the MDC can be readily increased by a factor of 5.26 via excitation spectrum optimization. Furthermore, a numerical model was developed and validated by the experimental data (≥0.976). The numerical model can be used to optimize XFMI system configurations to further improve the molecular sensitivity. Findings from this investigation could find applications for in vivo pre-clinical small-animal XFMI in the future.

PCCT is an emerging technique that has the ability to distinguish photon energy and generate much richer image data that contains x-ray spectral information compared to conventional CT. In this study, a physics model was developed based on x-ray matter interaction physics to calculate the effective atomic number () and effective electron density () from PCCT image data for material identification. As the validation of the physics model, the and were calculated under various energy conditions for many materials. The relative standard deviations are mostly less than 1% (161 out of 168) shows that the developed model obtains good accuracy and robustness to energy conditions. To study the feasibility of applying the model with PCCT image data for material identification, both PCCT system numerical simulation and physical experiment were conducted. The result shows different materials can be clearly identified in the − map (with relative error ≤8.8%). The model has the value to serve as a material identification scheme for PCCT system for practical use in the future.

As PCCT appears to be a significant breakthrough in CT imaging field, there exists severe data distortion problem in PCCT, which greatly limits the application of PCCT in practice. Lately, deep learning (DL) neural network has demonstrated tremendous success in medical imaging field. In this study, a deep learning neural network based PCCT data distortion correction method was proposed. When applying the algorithm to process the test dataset data, the accuracy of the PCCT data can be greatly improved (RMSE improved 73.7%). Compared with traditional data correction approaches such as maximum likelihood, the deep learning approach demonstrate superiority in terms of RMSE, SSIM, PSNR, and most importantly, runtime (4053.21 sec vs. 1.98 sec). The proposed method has the potential to facilitate the PCCT studies and applications in practice.

Computed Tomography, Molecular Imaging, X-ray Fluorescence, Photon Counting CT, Deep learning (Machine learning)