biodistribution properties of the radiopharmaceutical, it is taken up by different organs and/or tissue types. Most radiopharmaceuticals used in nuclear medicine and SPECT are labeled with radionuclides that emit g-ray photons. Typically, a scintillation camera system is used as the imaging device. The scintillation camera consists of a lead collimator that allows photons traveling in given directions to pass through a large-area scintillator (commonly NaI(Tl) crystal) that converts the energy of g -ray photons to lower-energy photons which are in turn converted to electric signals by photomultiplier tubes (PMTs). The signals from an array of PMTs are processed by electronic circuitry to provide information about the position at which a photon interacts with the crystal. The scintillation camera provides a two-dimensional projection image of the three-dimensional radioactivity distribution or radiopharmaceutical uptake within the patient.
SPECT takes conventional two-dimensional nuclear medicine images acquired at different views around the patient and provides an estimate of the three-dimensional radioactivity distribution using methods of image reconstruction from multiple projections. SPECT differs from x-ray computed tomography (CT) in that the radiation source is within instead of outside the patient. The goal of SPECT is to determine accurately the three-dimensional radioactivity distribution resulting from the radiopharmaceutical uptake inside the patient (instead of the attenuation coefficient distribution from different tissues as obtained from x-ray CT). SPECT utilizes radiopharmaceuticals that are common in nuclear medicine clinics, rather than those that emit positrons with subsequent generation of two 511-keV annihilation photons as is the case with PET. SPECT requires instrumentation and image reconstruction methods that differ from those used in other medical imaging modalities.
The amount of radiopharmaceutical that can be administered is limited by the allowable dose of radiation to the patient. This requirement results in a limited number of photons that can be used for imaging. Also, the acceptance angle or geometric response of the collimator further limits the fraction of photons that are acceptable for the projection data. The collimator can be designed to allow detection of more photons, but increased detection efficiency usually can be achieved only with a concurrent loss of spatial resolution. A major goal of SPECT instrumentation development is to increase the detection efficiency while at the same time improving the spatial resolution of the imaging system, goals that are pursued by adding more detectors around the patient.
The SPECT imaging process imposes unique difficulties and challenges in