Purpose: Clinical performance studies of an extremity cone-beam CT (CBCT) system indicate excellent bone visualization, but point to the need for improvement of soft-tissue image quality. To this end, a rapid Monte Carlo (MC) scatter correction is proposed, and Penalized Likelihood (PL) reconstruction is evaluated for noise management. Methods: The accelerated MC scatter correction involved fast MC simulation with low number of photons implemented on a GPU (107 photons/sec), followed by Gaussian kernel smoothing in the detector plane and across projection angles. PL reconstructions were investigated for reduction of imaging dose for projections acquired at ~2 mGy. Results: The rapid scatter estimation yielded root-mean-squared-errors of scatter projections of ~15% of peak scatter intensity for 5⋅106 photons/projection (runtime ~0.5 sec/projection) and 25% improvement in fat-muscle contrast in reconstructions of a cadaveric knee. PL reconstruction largely restored soft-tissue visualization at 2 mGy dose to that of 10 mGy FBP image. Conclusion: The combination of rapid (5-10 minutes/scan) MC-based, patient-specific scatter correction and PL reconstruction offers an important means to overcome the current limitations of extremity CBCT in soft-tissue imaging.
Purpose: We describe the initial assessment of the peripheral quantitative CT (pQCT) imaging capabilities of a conebeam CT (CBCT) scanner dedicated to musculoskeletal extremity imaging. The aim is to accurately measure and quantify bone and joint morphology using information automatically acquired with each CBCT scan, thereby reducing the need for a separate pQCT exam. Methods: A prototype CBCT scanner providing isotropic, sub-millimeter spatial resolution and soft-tissue contrast resolution comparable or superior to standard multi-detector CT (MDCT) has been developed for extremity imaging, including the capability for weight-bearing exams and multi-mode (radiography, fluoroscopy, and volumetric) imaging. Assessment of pQCT performance included measurement of bone mineral density (BMD), morphometric parameters of subchondral bone architecture, and joint space analysis. Measurements employed phantoms, cadavers, and patients from an ongoing pilot study imaged with the CBCT prototype (at various acquisition, calibration, and reconstruction techniques) in comparison to MDCT (using pQCT protocols for analysis of BMD) and micro-CT (for analysis of subchondral morphometry). Results: The CBCT extremity scanner yielded BMD measurement within ±2-3% error in both phantom studies and cadaver extremity specimens. Subchondral bone architecture (bone volume fraction, trabecular thickness, degree of anisotropy, and structure model index) exhibited good correlation with gold standard micro-CT (error ~5%), surpassing the conventional limitations of spatial resolution in clinical MDCT scanners. Joint space analysis demonstrated the potential for sensitive 3D joint space mapping beyond that of qualitative radiographic scores in application to non-weight-bearing versus weight-bearing lower extremities and assessment of phalangeal joint space integrity in the upper extremities. Conclusion: The CBCT extremity scanner demonstrated promising initial results in accurate pQCT analysis from images acquired with each CBCT scan. Future studies will include improved x-ray scatter correction and image reconstruction techniques to further improve accuracy and to correlate pQCT metrics with known pathology.