Purpose: The purpose of this study was to assess the performance of a novel dual-energy CT (DECT) approach for proton stopping power ratio (SPR) mapping that integrates image reconstruction and material characterization using a joint statistical image reconstruction (JSIR) method based on a linear basis vector model (BVM). A systematic comparison between the JSIR-BVM method and previously described DECT image- and sinogram-domain decomposition approaches is also carried out on synthetic data. Methods: The JSIR-BVM method was implemented to estimate the electron densities and mean excitation energies (I-values) required by the Bethe equation for SPR mapping. In addition, image- and sinogram-domain DECT methods based on three available SPR models including BVM were implemented for comparison. The intrinsic SPR modeling accuracy of the three models was first validated. Synthetic DECT transmission sinograms of two 330 mm diameter phantoms each containing 17 soft and bony tissues (for a total of 34) of known composition were then generated with spectra of 90 and 140 kVp. The estimation accuracy of the reconstructed SPR images were evaluated for the seven investigated methods. The impact of phantom size and insert location on SPR estimation accuracy was also investigated. Results: All three selected DECT-SPR models predict the SPR of all tissue types with less than 0.2% RMS errors under idealized conditions with no reconstruction uncertainties. When applied to synthetic sinograms, the JSIR-BVM method achieves the best performance with mean and RMS-average errors of less than 0.05% and 0.3%, respectively, for all noise levels, while the image- and sinogram-domain decomposition methods show increasing mean and RMS-average errors with increasing noise level. The JSIR-BVM method also reduces statistical SPR variation by sixfold compared to other methods. A 25% phantom diameter change causes up to 4% SPR differences for the image-domain decomposition approach, while the JSIR-BVM method and sinogram-domain decomposition methods are insensitive to size change. Conclusion: Among all the investigated methods, the JSIR-BVM method achieves the best performance for SPR estimation in our simulation phantom study. This novel method is robust with respect to sinogram noise and residual beam-hardening effects, yielding SPR estimation errors comparable to intrinsic BVM modeling error. In contrast, the achievable SPR estimation accuracy of the image- and sinogram-domain decomposition methods is dominated by the CT image intensity uncertainties introduced by the reconstruction and decomposition processes.
- dual-energy computed tomography
- proton stopping power
- proton therapy
- statistical image reconstruction