A high-resolution radiographic method for soft tissues in the small joints of the hand would aid in the study and treatment of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and osteoarthritis (OA), which often attacks these joints. Of particular interest would be imaging with <100 νm resolution the joint cartilage, whose integrity is a main indicator of disease. Differential phase-contrast (DPC) or refraction-based x-ray imaging with Talbot grating interferometers could provide such a method, since it enhances soft tissue contrast and can be implemented with conventional x-ray tubes. A numerical joint phantom was first developed to assess the angular sensitivity and spectrum needed for a hand DPC system. The model predicts that, due to quite similar refraction indexes for joint soft tissues, the refraction effects are very small, requiring high angular resolution. To compare our model to experiment we built a high-resolution bench-top interferometer using 10 νm period gratings, a W anode tube and a CCD-based detector. Imaging experiments on animal cartilage and on a human finger support the model predictions. For instance, the estimated difference between the index of refraction of cartilage and water is of only several percent at ∼25 keV mean energy, comparable to that between the linear attenuation coefficients. The potential advantage of DPC imaging thus comes mainly from the edge enhancement at the soft tissue interfaces. Experiments using a cadaveric human finger are also qualitatively consistent with the joint model, showing that refraction contrast is dominated by tendon embedded in muscle, with the cartilage layer difficult to observe in our conditions. Nevertheless, the model predicts that a DPC radiographic system for the small hand joints of the hand could be feasible using a low energy quasi-monochromatic source, such as a K-edge filtered Rh or Mo tube, in conjunction with a ∼2 m long 'symmetric' interferometer operated in a high Talbot order.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Radiological and Ultrasound Technology
- Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging