Model-based cartilage thickness measurement in the submillimeter range



Current methods of image-based thickness measurement in thin sheet structures utilize second derivative zero crossings to locate the layer boundaries. It is generally acknowledged that the nonzero width of the point spread function (PSF) limits the accuracy of this measurement procedure. We propose a model-based method that strongly reduces PSF-induced bias by incorporating the PSF into the thickness estimation method. We estimated the bias in thickness measurements in simulated thin sheet images as obtained from second derivative zero crossings. To gain insight into the range of sheet thickness where our method is expected to yield improved results, sheet thickness was varied between 0.15 and 1.2mm with an assumed PSF as present in the high-resolution modes of current computed tomography (CT) scanners [full width at half maximum (FWHM) 0.50.8mm]. Our model-based method was evaluated in practice by measuring layer thickness from CT images of a phantom mimicking two parallel cartilage layers in an arthrography procedure. CT arthrography images of cadaver wrists were also evaluated, and thickness estimates were compared to those obtained from high-resolution anatomical sections that served as a reference. The thickness estimates from the simulated images reveal that the method based on second derivative zero crossings shows considerable bias for layers in the submillimeter range. This bias is negligible for sheet thickness larger than 1mm, where the size of the sheet is more than twice the FWHM of the PSF but can be as large as 0.2mm for a 0.5mm sheet. The results of the phantom experiments show that the bias is effectively reduced by our method. The deviations from the true thickness, due to random fluctuations induced by quantum noise in the CT images, are of the order of 3% for a standard wrist imaging protocol. In the wrist the submillimeter thickness estimates from the CT arthrography images correspond within 10% to those estimated from the anatomical sections. We present a method that yields virtually unbiased thickness estimates of cartilage layers in the submillimeter range. The good agreement of thickness estimates from CT images with estimates from anatomical sections is promising for clinical application of the method in cartilage integrity staging of the wrist and the ankle.