A hybrid method for airway segmentation and automated measurement of bronchial wall thickness on CT

Ziyue Xu, Ulas Bagci*, Brent Foster, Awais Mansoor, Jayaram K. Udupa, Daniel J. Mollura

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Inflammatory and infectious lung diseases commonly involve bronchial airway structures and morphology, and these abnormalities are often analyzed non-invasively through high resolution computed tomography (CT) scans. Assessing airway wall surfaces and the lumen are of great importance for diagnosing pulmonary diseases. However, obtaining high accuracy from a complete 3-D airway tree structure can be quite challenging. The airway tree structure has spiculated shapes with multiple branches and bifurcation points as opposed to solid single organ or tumor segmentation tasks in other applications, hence, it is complex for manual segmentation as compared with other tasks. For computerized methods, a fundamental challenge in airway tree segmentation is the highly variable intensity levels in the lumen area, which often causes a segmentation method to leak into adjacent lung parenchyma through blurred airway walls or soft boundaries. Moreover, outer wall definition can be difficult due to similar intensities of the airway walls and nearby structures such as vessels. In this paper, we propose a computational framework to accurately quantify airways through (i) a novel hybrid approach for precise segmentation of the lumen, and (ii) two novel methods (a spatially constrained Markov random walk method (pseudo 3-D) and a relative fuzzy connectedness method (3-D)) to estimate the airway wall thickness. We evaluate the performance of our proposed methods in comparison with mostly used algorithms using human chest CT images. Our results demonstrate that, on publicly available data sets and using standard evaluation criteria, the proposed airway segmentation method is accurate and efficient as compared with the state-of-the-art methods, and the airway wall estimation algorithms identified the inner and outer airway surfaces more accurately than the most widely applied methods, namely full width at half maximum and phase congruency.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalMedical Image Analysis
Issue number1
StatePublished - Aug 1 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Airway wall thickness estimation
  • Full width at half maximum
  • Fuzzy connectedness
  • Phase congruency
  • Random walk

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiological and Ultrasound Technology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition
  • Health Informatics
  • Computer Graphics and Computer-Aided Design


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