Automatic soft plaque detection from CTA
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This thesis explores two possible ways of detecting soft plaque present in the coronary arteries, using CTA imagery. The coronary arteries are vessels that supply oxidized blood to the cardiac muscle and are thus important for the proper functioning of heart. Cholesterol or reactive oxygen species from cigarette smoke and other toxins may get adhered to the walls of coronary arteries and trigger chronic inflammation that leads to formation of the soft plaque. When the soft plaque grows bigger in volume, it occludes the blood flow to the cardiac muscle and finally results in ischemic heart attack. Moreover, smaller plaque can easily rupture due to the blood flow in arteries and can result in complications such as stroke. Hence there is a need to detect the soft plaque using non-invasive or minimally invasive techniques. In CTA imagery, the cardiac muscle appears as a dark gray color, while the blood appears as dull white color and the the calcified plaque appears as bright white. The soft plaque has an intensity which falls between the intensity level of the blood and cardiac muscle, making it difficult to directly segment the soft plaque using standard segmentation methods. Soft plaque in its advanced stages forms a concavity in the blood lumen. A watershed based segmentation method was used to detect the presence of this concavity which in turn identifies the location of the soft plaque. For segmenting the soft plaque at its earlier stages, a novel segmentation technique was used. In this technique the surface is evolved based on a region-based energy calculated in the local neighborhood around each point on the evolving surface. This method seems to be superior to the watershed based segmentation method in detecting smaller plaque deposits.