Purpose: To assess image quality and image-guidance capabilities of a cone-beam CT based small-animal image-guided irradiation unit (micro-IGRT).
Methods: A micro-IGRT system has been developed in collaboration with the authors' laboratory as a means to study the radiobiological effects of conformal radiation dose distributions in small animals. The system, the X-Rad 225Cx, consists of a 225 kVp x-ray tube and a flat-panel amorphous silicon detector mounted on a rotational C-arm gantry and is capable of both fluoroscopic x-ray and cone-beam CT imaging, as well as image-guided placement of the radiation beams. Image quality (voxel noise, modulation transfer, CT number accuracy, and geometric accuracy characteristics) was assessed using water cylinder and micro-CT test phantoms. Image guidance was tested by analyzing the dose delivered to radiochromic films fixed to BB's through the end-to-end process of imaging, targeting the center of the BB, and irradiation of the film/BB in order to compare the offset between the center of the field and the center of the BB. Image quality and geometric studies were repeated over a 5-7 month period to assess stability.
Results: CT numbers reported were found to be linear (R2 0.998) and the noise for images of homogeneous water phantom was 30 HU at imaging doses of approximately 1 cGy (to water). The presampled MTF at 50% and 10% reached 0.64 and 1.35 mm(-1), respectively. Targeting accuracy by means of film irradiations was shown to have a mean displacement error of [deltax, deltay, deltaz] = [-0.12, -0.05, -0.02] mm, with standard deviations of [0.02, 0.20, 0.17] mm. The system has proven to be stable over time, with both the image quality and image-guidance performance being reproducible for the duration of the studies.
Conclusions: The micro-IGRT unit provides soft-tissue imaging of small-animal anatomy at acceptable imaging doses (< or =1 cGy). The geometric accuracy and targeting systems permit dose placement with submillimeter accuracy and precision. The system has proven itself to be stable over 2 yr of routine laboratory use (>1800 irradiations) and provides a platform for the exploration of targeted radiation effects in small-animal models.