Quantitative accuracy and dose efficiency of dual-contrast imaging using dual-energy CT: a phantom study

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Purpose: To evaluate the quantitative accuracy and dose efficiency of simultaneous imaging of two contrast agents using dual-energy computed tomography (DECT), two imaging tasks each representing one potential clinical application were investigated in a phantom study: biphasic liver imaging with iodine and gadolinium, and small bowel imaging with iodine and bismuth. Methods: To separate and quantify mixtures of two contrast agents using a single DECT scan, mixed iodine and gadolinium samples were prepared with the contrast enhancement values corresponding to the late arterial (iodine) and the portal-venous (gadolinium) phase for biphasic liver imaging. Mixed iodine and bismuth samples were prepared mimicking the arterial (iodine) and the enteric (bismuth) enhancement for small bowel imaging. For comparison to the reference condition of performing two single-energy CT (SECT) scans, contrast samples were prepared separately to mimic separate scans in the arterial/venous phase and arterial/enteric enhancement. Samples were placed in a 35 cm wide water tank and scanned using a third-generation dual-source DECT scanner with three tube potential pairs: 80/Sn150, 90/Sn150, and 100/Sn150 kV, all with default dose partitioning between two x-ray beams to acquire DECT data. The same scanner operated in a single-energy mode acquired SECT data (120 kV). Total radiation dose (CTDIvol) was matched for the single-scan DECT and the two-scan SECT protocols. The DECT protocol was followed by a generic image-based three-material decomposition method to determine the material-specific images, based on which concentrations of each basis material were quantified and noise levels were measured. To compare with the SECT images directly acquired with the SECT protocol, the concentration values in each contrast-specific image were converted to CT numbers at 120 kV (i.e., virtual SECT (vSECT) images). The noise level and noise power spectra differences between the SECT and vSECT images were compared to evaluate the dose efficiency of the single-scan DECT protocol. The impact of dose partitioning in the DECT protocol on quantitative dual-contrast imaging performance was also studied. Results: For each imaging task, contrast materials were accurately quantified against the nominal concentrations using the DECT data with strong correlation (R2 ≥ 0.98 for both imaging tasks). Compared to the SECT protocol, the DECT protocol was not dose efficient. With the optimal x-ray tube potential pair 80/Sn150 kV, the noise level in vSECT images increased by 401%/488% (arterial/portal-venous) for the biphasic liver imaging task and by 10%/41% (arterial/enteric) for the small bowel imaging task compared to that in SECT images. The corresponding radiation dose increase is 2410%/3357% for the biphasic liver imaging task and 21%/99% for the small bowel imaging task, respectively, to achieve the same noise as that in SECT images. This could be improved by adjusting the dose partitioning in DECT. Conclusions: DECT can be used to simultaneously separate and quantify two contrast materials. However, compared to a two-scan SECT protocol, much higher radiation dose is needed in a single-scan DECT protocol to achieve the same image noise, especially for tasks involving the dual contrast of iodine and gadolinium.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)441-456
Number of pages16
JournalMedical physics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2020


  • computed tomography (CT)
  • dose efficiency
  • dual-contrast imaging
  • dual-energy CT (DECT)
  • material decomposition
  • single-energy CT (SECT)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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