Dynamic whole-body PET parametric imaging: II. Task-oriented statistical estimation.
In the context of oncology, dynamic PET imaging coupled with standard graphical linear analysis has been previously employed to enable quantitative estimation of tracer kinetic parameters of physiological interest at the voxel level, thus, enabling quantitative PET parametric imaging. However, dynamic PET acquisition protocols have been confined to the limited axial field-of-view (~15-20 cm) of a single-bed position and have not been translated to the whole-body clinical imaging domain. On the contrary, standardized uptake value (SUV) PET imaging, considered as the routine approach in clinical oncology, commonly involves multi-bed acquisitions, but is performed statically, thus not allowing for dynamic tracking of the tracer distribution. Here, we pursue a transition to dynamic whole-body PET parametric imaging, by presenting, within a unified framework, clinically feasible multi-bed dynamic PET acquisition protocols and parametric imaging methods. In a companion study, we presented a novel clinically feasible dynamic (4D) multi-bed PET acquisition protocol as well as the concept of whole-body PET parametric imaging employing Patlak ordinary least squares (OLS) regression to estimate the quantitative parameters of tracer uptake rate Ki and total blood distribution volume V. In the present study, we propose an advanced hybrid linear regression framework, driven by Patlak kinetic voxel correlations, to achieve superior trade-off between contrast-to-noise ratio (CNR) and mean squared error (MSE) than provided by OLS for the final Ki parametric images, enabling task-based performance optimization. Overall, whether the observer's task is to detect a tumor or quantitatively assess treatment response, the proposed statistical estimation framework can be adapted to satisfy the specific task performance criteria, by adjusting the Patlak correlation-coefficient (WR) reference value. The multi-bed dynamic acquisition protocol, as optimized in the preceding companion study, was employed along with extensive Monte Carlo simulations and an initial clinical (18)F-deoxyglucose patient dataset to validate and demonstrate the potential of the proposed statistical estimation methods. Both simulated and clinical results suggest that hybrid regression in the context of whole-body Patlak Ki imaging considerably reduces MSE without compromising high CNR. Alternatively, for a given CNR, hybrid regression enables larger reductions than OLS in the number of dynamic frames per bed, allowing for even shorter acquisitions of ~30 min, thus further contributing to the clinical adoption of the proposed framework. Compared to the SUV approach, whole-body parametric imaging can provide better tumor quantification, and can act as a complement to SUV, for the task of tumor detection.