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Photon Counting Computed Tomography With Dedicated Sharp Convolution Kernels: Tapping the Potential of a New Technology for Stent Imaging

von Spiczak, Jochen, MD, MSc*; Mannil, Manoj, MD, MSc*; Peters, Benjamin, MD*; Hickethier, Tilman, MD; Baer, Matthias, PhD; Henning, André, MSc; Schmidt, Bernhard, PhD‡§; Flohr, Thomas, PhD; Manka, Robert, MD*∥¶; Maintz, David, MD; Alkadhi, Hatem, MD, MPH, EBCR*

doi: 10.1097/RLI.0000000000000485
Original Articles

Objectives The aims of this study were to assess the value of a dedicated sharp convolution kernel for photon counting detector (PCD) computed tomography (CT) for coronary stent imaging and to evaluate to which extent iterative reconstructions can compensate for potential increases in image noise.

Materials and Methods For this in vitro study, a phantom simulating coronary artery stenting was prepared. Eighteen different coronary stents were expanded in plastic tubes of 3 mm diameter. Tubes were filled with diluted contrast agent, sealed, and immersed in oil calibrated to an attenuation of −100 HU simulating epicardial fat. The phantom was scanned in a modified second generation 128-slice dual-source CT scanner (SOMATOM Definition Flash, Siemens Healthcare, Erlangen, Germany) equipped with both a conventional energy integrating detector and PCD. Image data were acquired using the PCD part of the scanner with 48 × 0.25 mm slices, a tube voltage of 100 kVp, and tube current-time product of 100 mAs. Images were reconstructed using a conventional convolution kernel for stent imaging with filtered back-projection (B46) and with sinogram-affirmed iterative reconstruction (SAFIRE) at level 3 (I463). For comparison, a dedicated sharp convolution kernel with filtered back-projection (D70) and SAFIRE level 3 (Q703) and level 5 (Q705) was used. The D70 and Q70 kernels were specifically designed for coronary stent imaging with PCD CT by optimizing the image modulation transfer function and the separation of contrast edges. Two independent, blinded readers evaluated subjective image quality (Likert scale 0–3, where 3 = excellent), in-stent diameter difference, in-stent attenuation difference, mathematically defined image sharpness, and noise of each reconstruction. Interreader reliability was calculated using Goodman and Kruskal's γ and intraclass correlation coefficients (ICCs). Differences in image quality were evaluated using a Wilcoxon signed-rank test. Differences in in-stent diameter difference, in-stent attenuation difference, image sharpness, and image noise were tested using a paired-sample t test corrected for multiple comparisons.

Results Interreader and intrareader reliability were excellent (γ = 0.953, ICCs = 0.891–0.999, and γ = 0.996, ICCs = 0.918–0.999, respectively). Reconstructions using the dedicated sharp convolution kernel yielded significantly better results regarding image quality (B46: 0.4 ± 0.5 vs D70: 2.9 ± 0.3; P < 0.001), in-stent diameter difference (1.5 ± 0.3 vs 1.0 ± 0.3 mm; P < 0.001), and image sharpness (728 ± 246 vs 2069 ± 411 CT numbers/voxel; P < 0.001). Regarding in-stent attenuation difference, no significant difference was observed between the 2 kernels (151 ± 76 vs 158 ± 92 CT numbers; P = 0.627). Noise was significantly higher in all sharp convolution kernel images but was reduced by 41% and 59% by applying SAFIRE levels 3 and 5, respectively (B46: 16 ± 1, D70: 111 ± 3, Q703: 65 ± 2, Q705: 46 ± 2 CT numbers; P < 0.001 for all comparisons).

Conclusions A dedicated sharp convolution kernel for PCD CT imaging of coronary stents yields superior qualitative and quantitative image characteristics compared with conventional reconstruction kernels. Resulting higher noise levels in sharp kernel PCD imaging can be partially compensated with iterative image reconstruction techniques.

From the *Institute of Diagnostic and Interventional Radiology, University Hospital Zurich, Switzerland;

Department of Radiology, University Hospital of Cologne;

Siemens Healthcare GmbH, Forchheim;

§Institute of Medical Physics, University Erlangen-Nuremberg, Erlangen, Germany;

Department of Cardiology, University Heart Center, University Hospital Zurich; and

Institute for Biomedical Engineering, University and ETH Zurich, Switzerland.

Received for publication January 11, 2018; and accepted for publication, after revision, March 30, 2018.

Conflicts of interest and sources of funding: none declared.

Supplemental digital contents are available for this article. Direct URL citations appear in the printed text and are provided in the HTML and PDF versions of this article on the journal’s Web site (www.investigativeradiology.com).

Correspondence to: Hatem Alkadhi, MD, MPH, EBCR, Institute of Diagnostic and Interventional Radiology, University Hospital Zurich, Raemistrasse 100, 8091 Zurich, Switzerland. E-mail: hatem.alkadhi@usz.ch.

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