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This paper concerns the feasibility of x-ray differential phase contrast (DPC) tomosynthesis imaging using a grating-based DPC benchtop experimental system, which is equipped with a commercial digital flat-panel detector and a medical-grade rotating-anode x-ray tube. An extensive system characterization was performed to quantify its imaging performance.

The major components of the benchtop system include a diagnostic x-ray tube with a 1.0 mm nominal focal spot size, a flat-panel detector with 96 μm pixel pitch, a sample stage that rotates within a limited angular span of ±30°, and a Talbot-Lau interferometer with three x-ray gratings. A total of 21 projection views acquired with 3° increments were used to reconstruct three sets of tomosynthetic image volumes, including the conventional absorption contrast tomosynthesis image volume (AC-tomo) reconstructed using the filtered-backprojection (FBP) algorithm with the ramp kernel, the phase contrast tomosynthesis image volume (PC-tomo) reconstructed using FBP with a Hilbert kernel, and the differential phase contrast tomosynthesis image volume (DPC-tomo) reconstructed using the shift-and-add algorithm. Three inhouse physical phantoms containing tissue-surrogate materials were used to characterize the signal linearity, the signal difference-to-noise ratio (SDNR), the three-dimensional noise power spectrum (3D NPS), and the through-plane artifact spread function (ASF).

While DPC-tomo highlights edges and interfaces in the image object, PC-tomo removes the differential nature of the DPC projection data and its pixel values are linearly related to the decrement of the real part of the x-ray refractive index. The SDNR values of polyoxymethylene in water and polystyrene in oil are 1.5 and 1.0, respectively, in AC-tomo, and the values were improved to 3.0 and 2.0, respectively, in PC-tomo. PC-tomo and AC-tomo demonstrate equivalent ASF, but their noise characteristics quantified by the 3D NPS were found to be different due to the difference in the tomosynthesis image reconstruction algorithms.

It is feasible to simultaneously generate x-ray differential phase contrast, phase contrast, and absorption contrast tomosynthesis images using a grating-based data acquisition setup. The method shows promise in improving the visibility of several low-density materials and therefore merits further investigation.


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