This feasibility study aimed to use optimized virtual contrast enhancement through generative adversarial networks (GAN) to reduce the dose of iodine-based contrast medium (CM) during abdominal computed tomography (CT) in a large animal model.
Multiphasic abdominal low-kilovolt CTs (90 kV) with low (low CM, 105 mgl/kg) and normal contrast media doses (normal CM, 350 mgl/kg) were performed with 20 healthy Göttingen minipigs on 3 separate occasions for a total of 120 examinations. These included an early arterial, late arterial, portal venous, and venous contrast phase. One animal had to be excluded because of incomplete examinations. Three of the 19 animals were randomly selected and withheld for validation (18 studies). Subsequently, the GAN was trained for image-to-image conversion from low CM to normal CM (virtual CM) with the remaining 16 animals (96 examinations). For validation, region of interest measurements were performed in the abdominal aorta, inferior vena cava, portal vein, liver parenchyma, and autochthonous back muscles, and the contrast-to-noise ratio (CNR) was calculated. In addition, the normal CM and virtual CM data were presented in a visual Turing test to 3 radiology consultants. On the one hand, they had to decide which images were derived from the normal CM examination. On the other hand, they had to evaluate whether both images are pathological consistent.
Average vascular CNR (low CM 6.9 ± 7.0 vs virtual CM 28.7 ± 23.8, P < 0.0001) and parenchymal (low CM 1.5 ± 0.7 vs virtual CM 3.8 ± 2.0, P < 0.0001) CNR increased significantly by GAN-based contrast enhancement in all contrast phases and was not significantly different from normal CM examinations (vascular: virtual CM 28.7 ± 23.8 vs normal CM 34.2 ± 28.8; parenchymal: virtual CM 3.8 ± 2.0 vs normal CM 3.7 ± 2.6). During the visual Turing testing, the radiology consultants reported that images from normal CM and virtual CM were pathologically consistent in median in 96.5% of the examinations. Furthermore, it was possible for the examiners to identify the normal CM data as such in median in 91% of the cases.
In this feasibility study, it could be demonstrated in an experimental setting with healthy Göttingen minipigs that the amount of CM for abdominal CT can be reduced by approximately 70% by GAN-based contrast enhancement with satisfactory image quality.