Simultaneous reconstruction of activity and attenuation for PET/MR

André Salomon, Andreas Goedicke, Bernd Schweizer, Til Aach, Volkmar Schulz
IEEE Transactions on Medical Imaging 2011, 30 (3): 804-13
Medical investigations targeting a quantitative analysis of the position emission tomography (PET) images require the incorporation of additional knowledge about the photon attenuation distribution in the patient. Today, energy range adapted attenuation maps derived from computer tomography (CT) scans are used to effectively compensate for image quality degrading effects, such as attenuation and scatter. Replacing CT by magnetic resonance (MR) is considered as the next evolutionary step in the field of hybrid imaging systems. However, unlike CT, MR does not measure the photon attenuation and thus does not provide an easy access to this valuable information. Hence, many research groups currently investigate different technologies for MR-based attenuation correction (MR-AC). Typically, these approaches are based on techniques such as special acquisition sequences (alone or in combination with subsequent image processing), anatomical atlas registration, or pattern recognition techniques using a data base of MR and corresponding CT images. We propose a generic iterative reconstruction approach to simultaneously estimate the local tracer concentration and the attenuation distribution using the segmented MR image as anatomical reference. Instead of applying predefined attenuation values to specific anatomical regions or tissue types, the gamma attenuation at 511 keV is determined from the PET emission data. In particular, our approach uses a maximum-likelihood estimation for the activity and a gradient-ascent based algorithm for the attenuation distribution. The adverse effects of scattered and accidental gamma coincidences on the quantitative accuracy of PET, as well as artifacts caused by the inherent crosstalk between activity and attenuation estimation are efficiently reduced using enhanced decay event localization provided by time-of-flight PET, accurate correction for accidental coincidences, and a reduced number of unknown attenuation coefficients. First results achieved with measured whole body PET data and reference segmentation from CT showed an absolute mean difference of 0.005 cm⁻¹ (< 20%) in the lungs, 0.0009 cm⁻¹ (< 2%) in case of fat, and 0.0015 cm⁻¹ (< 2%) for muscles and blood. The proposed method indicates a robust and reliable alternative to other MR-AC approaches targeting patient specific quantitative analysis in time-of-flight PET/MR.

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