Aortic wall segmentation in 18 F-sodium fluoride PET/CT scans: Head-to-head comparison of artificial intelligence-based versus manual segmentation

J Nucl Cardiol. 2021 May 12. doi: 10.1007/s12350-021-02649-z. Online ahead of print.


Background: We aimed to establish and test an automated AI-based method for rapid segmentation of the aortic wall in positron emission tomography/computed tomography (PET/CT) scans.

Methods: For segmentation of the wall in three sections: the arch, thoracic, and abdominal aorta, we developed a tool based on a convolutional neural network (CNN), available on the Research Consortium for Medical Image Analysis (RECOMIA) platform, capable of segmenting 100 different labels in CT images. It was tested on 18F-sodium fluoride PET/CT scans of 49 subjects (29 healthy controls and 20 angina pectoris patients) and compared to data obtained by manual segmentation. The following derived parameters were compared using Bland-Altman Limits of Agreement: segmented volume, and maximal, mean, and total standardized uptake values (SUVmax, SUVmean, SUVtotal). The repeatability of the manual method was examined in 25 randomly selected scans.

Results: CNN-derived values for volume, SUVmax, and SUVtotal were all slightly, i.e., 13-17%, lower than the corresponding manually obtained ones, whereas SUVmean values for the three aortic sections were virtually identical for the two methods. Manual segmentation lasted typically 1-2 hours per scan compared to about one minute with the CNN-based approach. The maximal deviation at repeat manual segmentation was 6%.

Conclusions: The automated CNN-based approach was much faster and provided parameters that were about 15% lower than the manually obtained values, except for SUVmean values, which were comparable. AI-based segmentation of the aorta already now appears as a trustworthy and fast alternative to slow and cumbersome manual segmentation.

Keywords: PET/CT; aorta; artificial intelligence; bias; sodium fluoride.