The interest in positron emission tomography (PET) and particularly in hybrid integrated PET/CT systems has significantly increased in the last few years due to the improved quality of the obtained images. Nevertheless, one of the most important limits of the PET imaging technique is still its poor spatial resolution due to several physical factors originating both at the emission (e.g. positron range, photon non-collinearity) and at detection levels (e.g. scatter inside the scintillating crystals, finite dimensions of the crystals and depth of interaction). To improve the spatial resolution of the images, a possible way consists of measuring the point spread function (PSF) of the system and then accounting for it inside the reconstruction algorithm. In this work, the system response of the GE Discovery STE operating in 3D mode has been characterized by acquiring 22 Na point sources in different positions of the scanner field of view. An image-based model of the PSF was then obtained by fitting asymmetric two-dimensional Gaussians on the 22 Na images reconstructed with small pixel sizes. The PSF was then incorporated, at the image level, in a three-dimensional ordered subset maximum likelihood expectation maximization (OS-MLEM) reconstruction algorithm. A qualitative and quantitative validation of the algorithm accounting for the PSF has been performed on phantom and clinical data, showing improved spatial resolution, higher contrast and lower noise compared with the corresponding images obtained using the standard OS-MLEM algorithm.
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