A Deep learning Approach to Generate Contrast-Enhanced Computerised Tomography Angiography without the Use of Intravenous Contrast Agents

Contrast-enhanced computed tomography angiograms (CTAs) are widely used in cardiovascular imaging to obtain a non-invasive view of arterial structures. However, contrast agents are associated with complications at the injection site as well as renal toxicity leading to contrast-induced nephropathy (CIN) and renal failure. We hypothesised that the raw data acquired from a non-contrast CT contains sufficient information to differentiate blood and other soft tissue components. We utilised deep learning methods to define the subtleties between soft tissue components in order to simulate contrast enhanced CTAs without contrast agents. Twenty-six patients with paired non-contrast and CTA images were randomly selected from an approved clinical study. Non-contrast axial slices within the AAA from 10 patients (n = 100) were sampled for the underlying Hounsfield unit (HU) distribution at the lumen, intra-luminal thrombus and interface locations. Sampling of HUs in these regions revealed significant differences between all regions (p<0.001 for all comparisons), confirming the intrinsic differences in the radiomic signatures between these regions. To generate a large training dataset, paired axial slices from the training set (n=13) were augmented to produce a total of 23,551 2-D images. We trained a 2-D Cycle Generative Adversarial Network (cycleGAN) for this non-contrast to contrast (NC2C) transformation task. The accuracy of the cycleGAN output was assessed by comparison to the contrast image. This pipeline is able to differentiate between visually incoherent soft tissue regions in non-contrast CT images. The CTAs generated from the non-contrast images bear strong resemblance to the ground truth. Here we describe a novel application of Generative Adversarial Network for CT image processing. This is poised to disrupt clinical pathways requiring contrast enhanced CT imaging.

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