High-quality chest CT segmentation to assess the impact of COVID-19 disease

Int J Comput Assist Radiol Surg. 2021 Oct;16(10):1737-1747. doi: 10.1007/s11548-021-02466-2. Epub 2021 Aug 6.


Purpose: COVID-19 has spread rapidly worldwide since its initial appearance, creating the need for faster diagnostic methods and tools. Due to the high rate of false-negative RT-PCR tests, the role of chest CT examination has been investigated as an auxiliary procedure. The main goal of this work is to establish a well-defined strategy for 3D segmentation of the airways and lungs of COVID-19 positive patients from CT scans, including detected abnormalities. Their identification and the volumetric quantification could allow an easier classification in terms of gravity, extent and progression of the infection. Moreover, these 3D reconstructions can provide a high-impact tool to enhance awareness of the severity of COVID-19 pneumonia.

Methods: Segmentation process was performed utilizing a proprietary software, starting from six different stacks of chest CT images of subjects with and without COVID-19. In this context, a comparison between manual and automatic segmentation methods of the respiratory system was conducted, to assess the potential value of both techniques, in terms of time consumption, required anatomical knowledge and branch detection, in healthy and pathological conditions.

Results: High-quality 3D models were obtained. They can be utilized to assess the impact of the pathology, by volumetrically quantifying the extension of the affected areas. Indeed, based on the obtained reconstructions, an attempted classification for each patient in terms of the severity of the COVID-19 infection has been outlined.

Conclusions: Automatic algorithms allowed for a substantial reduction in segmentation time. However, a great effort was required for the manual identification of COVID-19 CT manifestations. The developed automated procedure succeeded in obtaining sufficiently accurate models of the airways and the lungs of both healthy patients and subjects with confirmed COVID-19, in a reasonable time.

Keywords: COVID-19; CT; Lungs; Respiratory system; Segmentation.

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • COVID-19*
  • Humans
  • Lung / diagnostic imaging
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed