CHERENCUBE: Concept definition and implementation challenges of a Cherenkov-based detector block for PET




A new concept for a depth-of-interaction (DOI) capable time-of-flight (TOF) PET detector is defined, based only on the detection of Cherenkov photons. The proposed “CHERENCUBE” consists of a cubic Cherenkov radiator with position-sensitive photodetectors covering each crystal face. By means of the spatial distribution of the detected photons and their time of arrival, the point of interaction of the gamma-ray in the crystal can be determined. This study analyzes through theoretical calculations and Monte Carlo simulations the potential advantages of the concept toward reaching a Cherenkov-only detector for TOF-PET with DOI capability. Furthermore, an algorithm for the DOI estimation is presented and the requirements for a practical implementation of the proposed concept are defined.


The Monte Carlo simulations consisted of a cubic crystal with one photodetector coupled to each one of the faces of the cube. The sensitive area of the detector matched exactly the crystal size, which was varied in 1 mm steps between 1 × 1 × 1 mm3 and 10 × 10 × 10 mm3. For each size, five independent simulations of ten thousand 511 keV gamma-rays were triggered at a fixed distance of 10 mm. The crystal chosen was PbWO4. Its scintillation properties were simulated, but only Cherenkov photons were analyzed. Photodetectors were simulated having perfect photodetection efficiency and infinite time resolution. For every generated particle, the analysis considered its creation process, parent and daughter particles, energy, origin coordinates, trajectory, and time and position of detection. The DOI determination is based on the distribution of the emission time of all photons per event. These values are calculated as a function of the coordinates of detection and origin for every photon. The common origin is estimated by finding the distribution with the most similar emission time-points.


Detection efficiency increases with crystal size from 8.2% (1 × 1 × 1 mm3) to 58.6% (10 × 10 × 10 mm3) and decreases applying a photon detection threshold of 5/10/20 photons to 6.3%/4.3%/0.7% and 49.3%/30.4%/2.8%, respectively. The detection rate in the six photodetectors is uniform due to the nearly isotropic cone emission. Most cones originated after a photoelectric effect interaction, with two dominating peaks for the kinetic energy of the electron at 422.99 and 441.47 keV. The detection distance between same-event photons defines the spatial resolution of the detector required for individual photon recognition, with 20% of the detected photons having their closest neighbor within a distance of 5% of the length of the cube. Same-event photons are detected within a time window whose width is determined by the crystal size, with values of 30 and 150 ps for a 1 × 1 × 1 mm3 and a 10 × 10 × 10 mm3 cube, respectively. The DOI reconstruction has an accuracy of approximately 23% of the length of the cube, with an average value of 2.2 mm for a 10 × 10 × 10 mm3 CHERENCUBE.


The proposed concept requires a detector with high photodetection efficiency. The structure of the sensitive surface of the detector should be a two dimensional array of microcells, able to provide individual detection coordinates and time stamps. The microcell size determines the ability to recognize individual photons, influencing detection efficiency. The 3D DOI recognition relies on the accuracy of the time stamps and detection coordinates, without the need for a recognition of the projected patterns of photons. The refractive index of the material defines a detector intrinsic energy-based rejection of scattered PET events at the cost of reduced sensitivity.