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Semin Nucl Med. 1998 Jul;28(3):247-67.

PET instrumentation: what are the limits?

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  • Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Life Sciences Division, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA.


This report has emphasized the attributes of positron emission tomography (PET) through a discussion of the historical development with attention to limitations or factors that are of importance in using and further developing this technology. As is the case for all nuclear detector developments, the factors that require consideration are spatial resolution, uniformity of resolution, sensitivity, distortions (attenuation), background noise (scatter and randoms), image volume, data acquisition capabilities (count-rate saturation), and limitations based on allowable radiation doses to the subject. Forty years ago, the fact that dual gamma-cameras could not handle the count-rates from the short half-life radionuclides that had clinical applications at that time (ie, 15O, 11C, 13N) precluded their acceptance in nuclear medicine. With the advent of 18F applications particularly with FDG in oncology, this limitations was no longer a barrier. Twenty years ago and until recently, the promise of time-of-flight PET has been stifled by the fact that the appropriately fast scintillator BaF2 had too low an efficiency (low density) to be useful in improving the signal to noise of a time-of-flight tomograph over contemporary systems. With the development of dense scintillators with high light output and high speed such as LSO30 the time-of-flight potentials are now once again worth pursuing. Twenty years ago systems that theoretically would have improved sensitivity by minimal or no septa with spherical geometric arrangements of detectors were ignored because it appeared that scatter backgrounds would lead to a signal to noise less than 1. But in the last 5 years, cylindrical systems without speta have shown that noise effective sensitivity improvements of a factor of 4 can be realized. With time-of-flight additional improvements in sensitivity will be realized. Horizons for detector development include discovery of new scintillators, new methods of registering scintillation light, deployment of larger field of view systems and methods of compensating for scatter, randoms, attenuation, and irregular sampling associated with new geometries which can encircle most of the body. The expected limit for PET is 2 mm isotropic resolution for the head and appendages including joints and breasts. Clinical realization of this resolution for the thorax and abdomen requires compensation for motion and even in this area strategies are underdevelopment which rely on the improvement in sensitivity being realized by 3D systems.

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