Objective: Computed tomography scanning of the lumbar spine incurs a radiation dose ranging from 3.5 mSv to 19.5 mSv as well as relevant costs and is commonly necessary for spinal neuronavigation. Mitigation of the need for treatment-planning CT scans in the presence of MRI facilitated by MRI-based synthetic CT (sCT) would revolutionize navigated lumbar spine surgery. The authors aim to demonstrate, as a proof of concept, the capability of deep learning-based generation of sCT scans from MRI of the lumbar spine in 3 cases and to evaluate the potential of sCT for surgical planning.
Methods: Synthetic CT reconstructions were made using a prototype version of the "BoneMRI" software. This deep learning-based image synthesis method relies on a convolutional neural network trained on paired MRI-CT data. A specific but generally available 4-minute 3D radiofrequency-spoiled T1-weighted multiple gradient echo MRI sequence was supplemented to a 1.5T lumbar spine MRI acquisition protocol.
Results: In the 3 presented cases, the prototype sCT method allowed voxel-wise radiodensity estimation from MRI, resulting in qualitatively adequate CT images of the lumbar spine based on visual inspection. Normal as well as pathological structures were reliably visualized. In the first case, in which a spiral CT scan was available as a control, a volume CT dose index (CTDIvol) of 12.9 mGy could thus have been avoided. Pedicle screw trajectories and screw thickness were estimable based on sCT findings.
Conclusions: The evaluated prototype BoneMRI method enables generation of sCT scans from MRI images with only minor changes in the acquisition protocol, with a potential to reduce workflow complexity, radiation exposure, and costs. The quality of the generated CT scans was adequate based on visual inspection and could potentially be used for surgical planning, intraoperative neuronavigation, or for diagnostic purposes in an adjunctive manner.
Keywords: artificial intelligence; deep learning; image conversion; imaging; lumbar spine; machine learning.