Imaging system to characterize the composition of soft tissues and atherosclerotic plaques

Principal Investigator: Adam Alessio

Atherosclerotic plaques are often assessed by determining the lumen diameter of the atherosclerotic portion of the vessel, but this does not provide information regarding the plaque’s risk of rupture. Atherosclerotic plaque rupturing can lead to vessel occlusion and subsequent ischemia and myocardial infarction. Predicting the plaque’s vulnerability, or the risk of plaque rupture, is challenging and often involves considering the plaque’s size, location, and shape. Ideally, the plaque’s composition would be assessed as well, because it may provide a better measure of its stability, but current imaging methods do not allow for the classification or characterization of plaque composition.

Dr. Alessio describes systems for imaging and characterizing atherosclerotic plaques, including their composition. The systems use a polychromatic energy source, such as a multi-energy x-ray source, and a corresponding detector, such as a radiation line sensor, that can detect and count photons in predetermined energy bands. The energy bands are chosen to align with components of interest in the soft tissue (e.g., adipose, water, calcium, and iodine when imaging atherosclerotic plaques).


• Characterize atherosclerotic plaque using a multi-energy x-ray source and a detector. 

• Generate tomographic slice images of the atherosclerotic plaque. 

• Estimate a concentration of the soft tissue components at each pixel in the collected image. 


• Photon counting detectors have high detection efficiency. 

• Unlike dual-energy CT systems and dual-energy x-ray systems, this system can be operated at relatively low radiation dose levels to allow for repeat studies with the same patient. 

• Can apply the system to characterizing soft tissues besides atherosclerotic plaques by changing the detected energy bands.

For more info, contact: Lisa Norton

  • swap_vertical_circlelibrary_booksReferences (2)
    1. Erling Falk, Prediman K. Shah, and Valentin Fuster (1995), Coronary Plaque Disruption, Circulation, 657–671
    2. Jagat Narula (9/11/2009), Who gets the heart attack: noninvasive imaging markers of plaque instability, Journal of Nuclear Cardiology
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