PURPOSE: Current radiotherapy planning procedures are generally designed based on anatomical information only and use computed tomography (CT) images that do not incorporate organ-functional information. In this study, we developed a method for estimating liver elasticity using the finite element method (FEM) and four-dimensional CT (4DCT) images acquired during radiotherapy planning, and we subsequently evaluated its feasibility as a biomarker for liver fibrosis. MATERIALS AND METHODS: Twenty patients who underwent 4DCT and ultrasound-based transient elastography (UTE) were enrolled. All patients had chronic liver disease or cirrhosis. Liver elasticity measurements of the UTE were performed on the right lobe of the patient's liver in 20 patients. The serum biomarkers of the aspartate aminotransferase (AST)-to-platelet ratio index (APRI) and fibrosis-4 index (FIB-4) were available in 18 of the 20 total patients, which were measured within 1 week after undergoing 4DCT. The displacement between the 4DCT images obtained at the endpoints of exhalation and inspiration was determined using the actual (via deformable image registration) and simulated (via FEM) respiration-induced displacement. The elasticity of each element of the liver model was optimized by minimizing the error between the actual and simulated respiration-induced displacement. Then, each patient's estimated liver elasticity was defined as the mean Young's modulus of the liver's right lobe and that of the whole liver using the estimated elasticity map. The estimated liver elasticity was evaluated for correlations with the elasticity obtained via UTE and with two serum biomarkers (APRI and FIB-4). RESULTS: The mean ± standard deviation (SD) of the errors between the actual and simulated respiration-induced displacement in the liver model was 0.54 ± 0.33 mm. The estimated liver's right lobe elasticity was statistically significantly correlated with the UTE (r = 0.87, P < 0.001). Furthermore, the estimated whole liver elasticity was statistically significantly correlated with the UTE (r = 0.84, P < 0.001), APRI score (r = 0.62, P = 0.005), and FIB-4 score (r = 0.54, P = 0.021). CONCLUSION: In this study, liver elasticity was estimated through FEM-based simulation and actual respiratory-induced liver displacement obtained from 4DCT images. Furthermore, we assessed that the estimated elasticity of the liver's right lobe was strongly correlated with the UTE. Therefore, the estimated elasticity has the potential to be a feasible imaging biomarker for assessing liver fibrosis using only 4DCT images without additional inspection or equipment costs. Because our results were derived from a limited sample of 20 patients, it is necessary to evaluate the accuracy of elasticity estimation for each liver segment on larger groups of biopsied patients to utilize liver elasticity information for radiotherapy planning.
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