Task-based optimization of dedicated breast CT via Hotelling observer metrics




The purpose of this work is to develop and demonstrate a set of practical metrics for CT systems optimization. These metrics, based on the Hotelling observer (HO) figure of merit, are task-based. The authors therefore take the specific example of optimizing a dedicated breast CT system, including the reconstruction algorithm, for two relevant tasks, signal detection and Rayleigh discrimination.


A dedicated breast CT system is simulated using specifications in the literature from an existing prototype. The authors optimize configuration and image reconstruction algorithm parameters for two tasks: the detection of simulated microcalcifications and the discrimination of two adjacent, high-contrast signals, known as the Rayleigh discrimination task. The effects on task performance of breast diameter, signal location, image grid size, projection view number, and reconstruction filter were all investigated. Two HO metrics were evaluated: the percentage of correct decisions in a two-alternative forced choice experiment (equivalent to area under the ROC curve or AUC), and the HO efficiency, defined as the squared ratio of HO signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) in the reconstructed image to HO SNR in the projection data.


The ease and efficiency of the HO metric computation allows a rapid high-resolution survey of many system parameters. Optimization of a range of system parameters using the HO results in images that subjectively appear optimal for the tasks investigated. Further, the results of assessment through the HO reproduce closely many existing results in the literature regarding the impact of parameter selection on image quality.


This study demonstrates the utility of a task-based approach to system design, evaluation, and optimization. The methodology presented is equally applicable to determining the impact of a wide range of factors, including patient parameters, system and acquisition design, and the reconstruction algorithm. The results demonstrate the versatility of the proposed HO formalism by not only generating a set of parameters that are optimal for a given task but also by qualitatively reproducing many existing results from the breast CT literature. Meanwhile, the implementation of the proposed methodology is straightforward and entirely simulation-based. This is an attractive feature for many system optimization problems, where the goal is to analyze the individual system components such as the image reconstruction algorithm. Final assessment of the system as a whole should be based also on real data studies.