Understanding quantitative DCE-MRI of the breast : towards meaningful clinical application

M. Heisen

Research output: ThesisPhd Thesis 1 (Research TU/e / Graduation TU/e)

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In most industrialized countries breast cancer will affect one out of eight women during her lifetime. In the USA, after continuously increasing for more than two decades, incidence rates are slowly decreasing since 2001. Since 1990, death rates from breast cancer have steadily decreased in women, which is attributed to both earlier detection and improved treatment. Still, it is second only to lung cancer as a cause of cancer death in women. In this work we set out to improve early detection of breast cancer via quantitative analysis of magnetic resonance images (MRI). Screening and diagnosis of breast cancer are generally performed using X-ray mammography, possibly in conjunction with ultrasonography. However, MRI is becoming an important modality for screening of women at high-risk due to for instance hereditary gene mutations, as a problem-solving tool in case of indecisive mammographic and / or ultrasonic imaging, and for anti-cancer therapy assessment. In this work, we focused on MR imaging of the breast. More specifically, the dynamic contrast-enhanced (DCE) part of the protocol was highlighted, as well as radiological assessment of DCE-MRI data. The T_1-weighted (T_1: longitudinal relaxation time, a tissue property) signal-versus-time curve that can be extracted from the DCE-MRI series that is acquired at the time of and after injection of a T_1-shortening (shorter T_1 results in higher signal) contrast agent, is usually visually assessed by the radiologist. For example, a fast initial rise to the peak (1-2 minutes post injection) followed by loss of signal within a time frame of about 5-6 minutes is a sign for malignancy, whereas a curve showing persistent (slow) uptake within the same time frame is a sign for benignity. This difference in contrast agent uptake pattern is related to physiological changes in tumorous tissue that for instance result in a stronger uptake of the contrast agent. However, this descriptive way of curve type classification is based on clinical statistics, not on knowledge about tumor physiology. We investigated pharmacokinetic modeling as a quantitative image analysis tool. Pharmacokinetics describes what happens to a substance (e.g. drug or contrast agent) after it has been administered to a living organism. This includes the mechanisms of absorption and distribution. The terms in which these mechanisms are described are physiological and can therefore provide parameters describing the functioning of the tissue. This physiological aspect makes it an attractive approach to investigate (aberrant) tissue functioning. In addition, this type of analysis excludes confounding factors due to inter- and intra-patient differences in the systemic blood circulation, as well as differences in the injection protocol. In this work, we discussed the physiological basis and details of different types of pharmacokinetic models, with the focus on compartmental models. Practical implications such as obtaining an arterial input function and model parameter estimation were taken into account as well. A simulation study of the data-imposed limitations – in terms of temporal resolution and noise properties – on the complexity of pharmacokinetic models led to the insight that only one of the tested models, the basic Tofts model, is applicable to DCE-MRI data of the breast. For the basic Tofts model we further investigated the aspect of temporal resolution, because a typical diagnostic DCE-MRI scan of the breast is acquired at a rate of about 1 image volume every minute; whereas pharmacokinetic modeling usually requires a sampling time of less than 10 s. For this experiment we developed a new downsampling method using high-temporal-resolution raw k-space data to simulate what uptake curves would have looked like if they were acquired at lower temporal resolutions. We made use of preclinical animal data. With this data we demonstrated that the limit of 10 s can be stretched to about 1 min if the arterial input function (AIF, the input to the pharmacokinetic model) is inversely derived from a healthy reference tissue, instead of measured in an artery or taken from the literature. An important precondition for the application of pharmacokinetic modeling is knowledge of the relationship between the acquired DCE-MRI signal and the actual concentration of the contrast agent in the tissue. This relationship is not trivial because with MRI we measure the indirect effect of the contrast agent on water protons. To establish this relationship via calculation of T_1 (t), we investigated both a theoretical and an empirical approach, making use of an in-house (University of Chicago) developed reference object that is scanned concurrently with the patient. The use of the calibration object can shorten the scan duration (an empirical approach requires less additional scans than an approach using a model of the acquisition technique), and can demonstrate if theoretical approaches are valid. Moreover we produced concentration images and estimated tissue proton density, also making use of the calibration object. Finally, via pharmacokinetic modeling and other MRI-derived measures we partly revealed the actions of a novel therapeutic in a preclinical study. In particular, the anti-tumor activity of a single dose of liposomal prednisolone phosphate was investigated, which is an anti-inflammatory drug that has demonstrated tumor growth inhibition. The work presented in this thesis contributes to a meaningful clinical application and interpretation of quantitative DCE-MRI of the breast.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • ter Haar Romeny, Bart M. , Promotor
  • Buurman, J., Copromotor, External person
  • van Riel, Natal A.W., Copromotor
Award date15 Nov 2010
Place of PublicationEindhoven
Print ISBNs978-90-386-2356-6
Publication statusPublished - 2010

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