Vulnerable plaques constitute a risk for serious heart problems, and are difficult to identify using existing methods. Hyperspectral imaging combines spectral- and spatial information, providing new possibilities for precise optical characterization of atherosclerotic lesions. Hyperspectral data were collected from excised aorta samples (n = 11) using both white-light and ultraviolet illumination. Single lesions (n = 42) were chosen for further investigation, and classified according to histological findings. The corresponding hyperspectral images were characterized using statistical image analysis tools (minimum noise fraction, K-means clustering, principal component analysis) and evaluation of reflectance/fluorescence spectra. Image analysis combined with histology revealed the complexity and heterogeneity of aortic plaques. Plaque features such as lipids and calcifications could be identified from the hyperspectral images. Most of the advanced lesions had a central region surrounded by an outer rim or shoulder-region of the plaque, which is considered a weak spot in vulnerable lesions. These features could be identified in both the white-light and fluorescence data. Hyperspectral imaging was shown to be a promising tool for detection and characterization of advanced atherosclerotic plaques in vitro. Hyperspectral imaging provides more diagnostic information about the heterogeneity of the lesions than conventional single point spectroscopic measurements.
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