Automatic segmentation of the spine by means of a probabilistic atlas with a special focus on ribs suppression

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The development of automatic and reliable algorithms for the detection and segmentation of the vertebrae are of great importance prior to any diagnostic task. However, an important problem found to accurately segment the vertebrae is the presence of the ribs in the thoracic region. To overcome this problem, a probabilistic atlas of the spine has been developed dealing with the proximity of other structures, with a special focus on ribs suppression.


The data sets used consist of Computed Tomography images corresponding to 21 patients suffering from spinal metastases. Two methods have been combined to obtain the final result: firstly, an initial segmentation is performed using a fully automatic level-set method; secondly, to refine the initial segmentation, a 3D volume indicating the probability of each voxel of belonging to the spine has been developed. In this way, a probability map is generated and deformed to be adapted to each testing case.


To validate the improvement obtained after applying the atlas, the Dice coefficient (DSC), the Hausdorff distance (HD), and the mean surface-to-surface distance (MSD) were used. The results showed up an average of 10 mm of improvement accuracy in terms of HD, obtaining an overall final average of 15.51 ± 2.74 mm. Also, a global value of 91.01 ± 3.18% in terms of DSC and a MSD of 0.66 ± 0.25 mm were obtained. The major improvement using the atlas was achieved in the thoracic region, as ribs were almost perfectly suppressed.


The study demonstrated that the atlas is able to detect and appropriately eliminate the ribs while improving the segmentation accuracy.

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