New ERC Starting Grant to improve the diagnostic capabilities of Time-of-Flight Positron Emission Tomographies with innovative detector technologies

September 20, 2022

Gerard Ariño-Estrada and his team plan to build a gamma detector for time-of-flight positron emission tomography with improved time and spatial detection features by exploiting a novel gamma detector design.

Time-of-flight positron emission tomography (TOF-PET) is the standard-of-care in cancer detection. TOF-PET scanners’ performance is dependent on the radiation detectors they use; therefore, improving their time and spatial detection features will dramatically impact their diagnostic capacity.

Gerard Ariño-Estrada has been awarded an ERC Starting Grant to develop a new detector module for TOF-PET systems at IFAE. The project CHLOE-PET (CHerenkov Light mOdulE for time-of-flight Positron Emission Tomography) has the potential to improve the time resolution and spatial segmentation of state-of-the-art detectors by factors of up to 7 and 10, respectively, without additional production costs.

Dr. Ariño-Estrada obtained his PhD in 2015 at the Institut de Física d’Altes Energies (IFAE) and then took a postdoctoral researcher position in the synchrotron detector group at DESY in Hamburg (Germany). He later joined the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of California Davis where he currently leads a team working on detectors for nuclear medicine imaging and dosimetry. He will join IFAE in July 2023 to lead the CHLOE-PET project.

Since its foundation in 1991, IFAE has been at the forefront of development of radiation detectors for experiments for high energy physics, astrophysics, and neutrino physics, among others. IFAE has also focussed on the development of radiation detectors for x-ray and nuclear medicine applications. Gerard and his team will leverage the microelectronics fabrication facilities at IFAE and the computing simulation infrastructure of the Port d’Informació Científica (PIC) next door, a joint venture of IFAE and CIEMAT.

Cherenkov and scintillation light combined to achieve an outstanding detector performance

The CHLOE-PET project aims to build a system-scalable detector module that employs Cherenkov light as a fast signal and scintillation light for spatial segmentation and energy measurement at an affordable production cost. This approach is expected to achieve an outstanding detector performance in time and spatial segmentation simultaneously.

The novelty of the proposed design lies in the combination of three different elements: using Cherenkov light as a prompt time source, using a dual-ended photodetector readout to maximize light collection and provide 3D segmentation, and employing photodetectors with small pixel pitch. Such improvements of the TOF-PET detector will allow the extraction of more accurate information from each gamma photon detector, which will ultimately lead to a dramatic improvement in image contrast.

The combinations of these outcomes will enable the early detection of tumors down to 2 mm in size, such as in lung, breast, and prostate, and will allow the diagnosis and study of other diseases such as Alzheimer’s with much better imaging accuracy, among other applications. CHLOE-PET will improve diagnostic capabilities in TOF-PET and ultimately boost patient comfort by enabling less aggressive, shorter, and more effective treatments.