Accurately identifying vertebral levels in large datasets

28 Jan 2020  ·  Daniel C. Elton, Veit Sandfort, Perry J. Pickhardt, Ronald M. Summers ·

The vertebral levels of the spine provide a useful coordinate system when making measurements of plaque, muscle, fat, and bone mineral density. Correctly classifying vertebral levels with high accuracy is challenging due to the similar appearance of each vertebra, the curvature of the spine, and the possibility of anomalies such as fractured vertebrae, implants, lumbarization of the sacrum, and sacralization of L5. The goal of this work is to develop a system that can accurately and robustly identify the L1 level in large heterogeneous datasets. The first approach we study is using a 3D U-Net to segment the L1 vertebra directly using the entire scan volume to provide context. We also tested models for two class segmentation of L1 and T12 and a three class segmentation of L1, T12 and the rib attached to T12. By increasing the number of training examples to 249 scans using pseudo-segmentations from an in-house segmentation tool we were able to achieve 98% accuracy with respect to identifying the L1 vertebra, with an average error of 4.5 mm in the craniocaudal level. We next developed an algorithm which performs iterative instance segmentation and classification of the entire spine with a 3D U-Net. We found the instance based approach was able to yield better segmentations of nearly the entire spine, but had lower classification accuracy for L1.

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