The aim of this feasibility study using phantoms was to propose a novel method for obtaining computer-generated realistic virtual nodules in lung computed tomography (CT).Methods:
In the proposed methodology, pulmonary nodule images obtained with a CT scanner are deconvolved with the point spread function (PSF) in the scan plane and slice sensitivity profile (SSP) measured for the scanner; the resultant images are referred to as nodule-like object functions. Next, by convolving the nodule-like object function with the PSF and SSP of another (target) scanner, the virtual nodule can be generated so that it has the characteristics of the spatial resolution of the target scanner. To validate the methodology, the authors applied physical nodules of 5-, 7- and 10-mm-diameter (uniform spheres) included in a commercial CT test phantom. The nodule-like object functions were calculated from the sphere images obtained with two scanners (Scanner A and Scanner B); these functions were referred to as nodule-like object functions A and B, respectively. From these, virtual nodules were generated based on the spatial resolution of another scanner (Scanner C). By investigating the agreement of the virtual nodules generated from the nodule-like object functions A and B, the equivalence of the nodule-like object functions obtained from different scanners could be assessed. In addition, these virtual nodules were compared with the real (true) sphere images obtained with Scanner C. As a practical validation, five types of laboratory-made physical nodules with various complicated shapes and heterogeneous densities, similar to real lesions, were used. The nodule-like object functions were calculated from the images of these laboratory-made nodules obtained with Scanner A. From them, virtual nodules were generated based on the spatial resolution of Scanner C and compared with the real images of laboratory-made nodules obtained with Scanner C.Results:
Good agreement of the virtual nodules generated from the nodule-like object functions A and B of the phantom spheres was found, suggesting the validity of the nodule-like object functions. The virtual nodules generated from the nodule-like object function A of the phantom spheres were similar to the real images obtained with Scanner C; the root mean square errors (RMSEs) between them were 10.8, 11.1, and 12.5 Hounsfield units (HU) for 5-, 7-, and 10-mm-diameter spheres, respectively. The equivalent results (RMSEs) using the nodule-like object function B were 15.9, 16.8, and 16.5 HU, respectively. These RMSEs were small considering the high contrast between the sphere density and background density (approximately 674 HU). The virtual nodules generated from the nodule-like object functions of the five laboratory-made nodules were similar to the real images obtained with Scanner C; the RMSEs between them ranged from 6.2 to 8.6 HU in five cases.Conclusions:
The nodule-like object functions calculated from real nodule images would be effective to generate realistic virtual nodules. The proposed method would be feasible for generating virtual nodules that have the characteristics of the spatial resolution of the CT system used in each institution, allowing for site-specific nodule generation.