The objective optimization and evaluation of nuclear-medicine quantitative imaging methods using patient data is highly desirable but often hindered by the lack of a gold standard. Previously, a regression-without-truth (RWT) approach has been proposed for evaluating quantitative imaging methods in the absence of a gold standard, but this approach implicitly assumes that bounds on the distribution of true values are known. Several quantitative imaging methods in nuclear-medicine imaging measure parameters where these bounds are not known, such as the activity concentration in an organ or the volume of a tumor. We extended upon the RWT approach to develop a no-gold-standard (NGS) technique for objectively evaluating such quantitative nuclear-medicine imaging methods with patient data in the absence of any ground truth. Using the parameters estimated with the NGS technique, a figure of merit, the noise-to-slope ratio (NSR), can be computed, which can rank the methods on the basis of precision. An issue with NGS evaluation techniques is the requirement of a large number of patient studies. To reduce this requirement, the proposed method explored the use of multiple quantitative measurements from the same patient, such as the activity concentration values from different organs in the same patient. The proposed technique was evaluated using rigorous numerical experiments and using data from realistic simulation studies. The numerical experiments demonstrated that the NSR was estimated accurately using the proposed NGS technique when the bounds on the distribution of true values were not precisely known, thus serving as a very reliable metric for ranking the methods on the basis of precision. In the realistic simulation study, the NGS technique was used to rank reconstruction methods for quantitative single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) based on their performance on the task of estimating the mean activity concentration within a known volume of interest. Results showed that the proposed technique provided accurate ranking of the reconstruction methods for 97.5% of the 50 noise realizations. Further, the technique was robust to the choice of evaluated reconstruction methods. The simulation study pointed to possible violations of the assumptions made in the NGS technique under clinical scenarios. However, numerical experiments indicated that the NGS technique was robust in ranking methods even when there was some degree of such violation.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Radiological and Ultrasound Technology
- Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging