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Skull CT Scan, Manual Data Don’t Always Match

January 15, 2014
Written by: , Filed in: Musculoskeletal Radiology
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How do CT scans of a skull match up with hand-mapped measurements of the same skull? Very well—and not so well.

That was the half-hopeful conclusion of North Carolina State University researchers. They were actually trying to improve a forensic database in order to help determine the ancestry and sex of unidentified remains. But Amanda Hale, lead author of a paper about the study, said the results might also help craniofacial surgeons:

An improved understanding of the flaws in how CT scans map skull features could help surgeons more accurately map landmarks for reconstructive surgery.

Hale was a master’s student in anthropology at NC State when the research was carried out. She was quoted in a university news release. The paper was published in the January issue of The Journal of Craniofacial Surgery.

Ann Ross, PhD, a professor of anthropology at NC State, helped develop software called 3D-ID that compares skull measurements to those in a database. The problem the researchers faced was the slow growth of their database. It’s hard to come across postmortem human skulls for which detailed demographic histories have been recorded. So the anthropologists wondered whether they could use CT to precisely measure the skulls of living people.

They acquired CT scans of 48 skulls from the Morton Collection at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Then they manually mapped the skulls using a digitizer—an electronic stylus.

Eight bilateral coordinates—found on the sides of the head—did turn out to be consistent between CT scans and manual measurements. “This will allow us to significantly expand the 3D-ID database,” Dr. Ross said. “And those bilateral coordinates give important clues to ancestry because they include cheekbones and other facial characteristics.”

But the five midline coordinates the researchers tested, running down the center of the skull, showed inconsistencies between the CT and manual measurements. Why? At this point, nobody knows.

“More research is needed to determine what causes these inconsistencies and whether we’ll be able to retrieve accurate midline data from CT scans,” Hale said.

Related CME seminar (up to 20.25 AMA PRA Category 1 credits™): Computed Body Tomography: The Cutting Edge

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