Purpose: One of the recently published concepts that combine the soft-tissue imaging capabilities of MRI with external beam radiotherapy involves the rigid coupling of a linac with a rotating biplanar low-field MR imaging system. While such a system would prevent possible image distortion resulting from relative motion between the magnet and the linac, the rotation of the magnet around the patient can itself introduce possibilities for image distortion that need to be addressed. While there are straightforward techniques in the literature for correcting distortions from gradient nonlinearities and nonuniform magnetic fields during image reconstruction, the correction of distortions related to tissue magnetic susceptibility is more complex. This work investigates the extent of this latter distortion type under the regime of a rotating magnetic field.
Methods: CT images covering patient anatomy in the head, lung, and male pelvic regions were obtained and segmented into components of air, bone, and soft tissue. Each of these three components was assigned bulk magnetic susceptibility values in accordance with those found in the literature. A finite-difference algorithm was then implemented to solve for magnetic field distortion maps should the anatomies be placed in the uniform polarizing field of an MR system. The algorithm was repeated multiple times as the polarizing field was rotated axially about the virtual patient in 15 degrees increments. In this way, a map of maximum distortion, and the range of distortion as the magnetic field is rotated about each anatomical region could be determined. The consequence of these susceptibility distortions in terms of geometric signal shift was calculated for 0.2 T, as well as another low-field system (0.5 T), and a higher field 1.5 T system for comparison, using the assumption of a frequency encoding gradient strength of 5 mT/m.
Results: At 0.2 T, the susceptibility-related distortion was limited to less than 0.5 mm given an encoding gradient strength of 5 mT/m or higher. To maintain this same level of geometric accuracy, the 0.5 T system would require a moderately higher minimum gradient strength of 11 mT/m, and at a typical MR field strength of 1.5 T this minimum gradient strength would increase to 33 mT/m. The influence of magnetic susceptibility on mean frequency shift as the field orientation was rotated was also investigated and found to account for less than half a millimeter at 1.5 T, and negligible for low-field systems.
Conclusions: A study of three sites (head, lung, and prostate) that are vulnerable to magnetic susceptibility-related distortions were studied, and showed that in the context of a rotating polarizing magnet, low-field systems can maintain geometric accuracy of 0.5 mm with at most moderate limitations on sequence parameters. This conclusion will likely apply only to endogenous tissues, as implanted materials such as titanium can create field distortions much in excess of what may normally be induced in the body. Items containing such materials (hip prostheses, for example) will require individual scrutiny.