Despite the remarkable success of deep learning systems over the last decade, a key difference still remains between neural network and human decision-making: As humans, we cannot only form a decision on the spot, but also ponder, revisiting an initial guess from different angles, distilling relevant information, arriving at a better decision. Here, we propose RecycleNet, a latent feature recycling method, instilling the pondering capability for neural networks to refine initial decisions over a number of recycling steps, where outputs are fed back into earlier network layers in an iterative fashion. This approach makes minimal assumptions about the neural network architecture and thus can be implemented in a wide variety of contexts. Using medical image segmentation as the evaluation environment, we show that latent feature recycling enables the network to iteratively refine initial predictions even beyond the iterations seen during training, converging towards an improved decision. We evaluate this across a variety of segmentation benchmarks and show consistent improvements even compared with top-performing segmentation methods. This allows trading increased computation time for improved performance, which can be beneficial, especially for safety-critical applications.
Data augmentation (DA) is a key factor in medical image analysis, such as in prostate cancer (PCa) detection on magnetic resonance images. State-of-the-art computer-aided diagnosis systems still rely on simplistic spatial transformations to preserve the pathological label post transformation. However, such augmentations do not substantially increase the organ as well as tumor shape variability in the training set, limiting the model's ability to generalize to unseen cases with more diverse localized soft-tissue deformations. We propose a new anatomy-informed transformation that leverages information from adjacent organs to simulate typical physiological deformations of the prostate and generates unique lesion shapes without altering their label. Due to its lightweight computational requirements, it can be easily integrated into common DA frameworks. We demonstrate the effectiveness of our augmentation on a dataset of 774 biopsy-confirmed examinations, by evaluating a state-of-the-art method for PCa detection with different augmentation settings.
Independently trained machine learning models tend to learn similar features. Given an ensemble of independently trained models, this results in correlated predictions and common failure modes. Previous attempts focusing on decorrelation of output predictions or logits yielded mixed results, particularly due to their reduction in model accuracy caused by conflicting optimization objectives. In this paper, we propose the novel idea of utilizing methods of the representational similarity field to promote dissimilarity during training instead of measuring similarity of trained models. To this end, we promote intermediate representations to be dissimilar at different depths between architectures, with the goal of learning robust ensembles with disjoint failure modes. We show that highly dissimilar intermediate representations result in less correlated output predictions and slightly lower error consistency, resulting in higher ensemble accuracy. With this, we shine first light on the connection between intermediate representations and their impact on the output predictions.
This paper presents the challenge report for the 2021 Kidney and Kidney Tumor Segmentation Challenge (KiTS21) held in conjunction with the 2021 international conference on Medical Image Computing and Computer Assisted Interventions (MICCAI). KiTS21 is a sequel to its first edition in 2019, and it features a variety of innovations in how the challenge was designed, in addition to a larger dataset. A novel annotation method was used to collect three separate annotations for each region of interest, and these annotations were performed in a fully transparent setting using a web-based annotation tool. Further, the KiTS21 test set was collected from an outside institution, challenging participants to develop methods that generalize well to new populations. Nonetheless, the top-performing teams achieved a significant improvement over the state of the art set in 2019, and this performance is shown to inch ever closer to human-level performance. An in-depth meta-analysis is presented describing which methods were used and how they faired on the leaderboard, as well as the characteristics of which cases generally saw good performance, and which did not. Overall KiTS21 facilitated a significant advancement in the state of the art in kidney tumor segmentation, and provides useful insights that are applicable to the field of semantic segmentation as a whole.
Owing to success in the data-rich domain of natural images, Transformers have recently become popular in medical image segmentation. However, the pairing of Transformers with convolutional blocks in varying architectural permutations leaves their relative effectiveness to open interpretation. We introduce Transformer Ablations that replace the Transformer blocks with plain linear operators to quantify this effectiveness. With experiments on 8 models on 2 medical image segmentation tasks, we explore -- 1) the replaceable nature of Transformer-learnt representations, 2) Transformer capacity alone cannot prevent representational replaceability and works in tandem with effective design, 3) The mere existence of explicit feature hierarchies in transformer blocks is more beneficial than accompanying self-attention modules, 4) Major spatial downsampling before Transformer modules should be used with caution.
International benchmarking competitions have become fundamental for the comparative performance assessment of image analysis methods. However, little attention has been given to investigating what can be learnt from these competitions. Do they really generate scientific progress? What are common and successful participation strategies? What makes a solution superior to a competing method? To address this gap in the literature, we performed a multi-center study with all 80 competitions that were conducted in the scope of IEEE ISBI 2021 and MICCAI 2021. Statistical analyses performed based on comprehensive descriptions of the submitted algorithms linked to their rank as well as the underlying participation strategies revealed common characteristics of winning solutions. These typically include the use of multi-task learning (63%) and/or multi-stage pipelines (61%), and a focus on augmentation (100%), image preprocessing (97%), data curation (79%), and postprocessing (66%). The "typical" lead of a winning team is a computer scientist with a doctoral degree, five years of experience in biomedical image analysis, and four years of experience in deep learning. Two core general development strategies stood out for highly-ranked teams: the reflection of the metrics in the method design and the focus on analyzing and handling failure cases. According to the organizers, 43% of the winning algorithms exceeded the state of the art but only 11% completely solved the respective domain problem. The insights of our study could help researchers (1) improve algorithm development strategies when approaching new problems, and (2) focus on open research questions revealed by this work.
The medical imaging community generates a wealth of datasets, many of which are openly accessible and annotated for specific diseases and tasks such as multi-organ or lesion segmentation. Current practices continue to limit model training and supervised pre-training to one or a few similar datasets, neglecting the synergistic potential of other available annotated data. We propose MultiTalent, a method that leverages multiple CT datasets with diverse and conflicting class definitions to train a single model for a comprehensive structure segmentation. Our results demonstrate improved segmentation performance compared to previous related approaches, systematically, also compared to single dataset training using state-of-the-art methods, especially for lesion segmentation and other challenging structures. We show that MultiTalent also represents a powerful foundation model that offers a superior pre-training for various segmentation tasks compared to commonly used supervised or unsupervised pre-training baselines. Our findings offer a new direction for the medical imaging community to effectively utilize the wealth of available data for improved segmentation performance. The code and model weights will be published here: [tba]
There has been exploding interest in embracing Transformer-based architectures for medical image segmentation. However, the lack of large-scale annotated medical datasets make achieving performances equivalent to those in natural images challenging. Convolutional networks, in contrast, have higher inductive biases and consequently, are easily trainable to high performance. Recently, the ConvNeXt architecture attempted to modernize the standard ConvNet by mirroring Transformer blocks. In this work, we improve upon this to design a modernized and scalable convolutional architecture customized to challenges of data-scarce medical settings. We introduce MedNeXt, a Transformer-inspired large kernel segmentation network which introduces - 1) A fully ConvNeXt 3D Encoder-Decoder Network for medical image segmentation, 2) Residual ConvNeXt up and downsampling blocks to preserve semantic richness across scales, 3) A novel technique to iteratively increase kernel sizes by upsampling small kernel networks, to prevent performance saturation on limited medical data, 4) Compound scaling at multiple levels (depth, width, kernel size) of MedNeXt. This leads to state-of-the-art performance on 4 tasks on CT and MRI modalities and varying dataset sizes, representing a modernized deep architecture for medical image segmentation.
Minerals are indispensable for a functioning modern society. Yet, their supply is limited causing a need for optimizing their exploration and extraction both from ores and recyclable materials. Typically, these processes must be meticulously adapted to the precise properties of the processed particles, requiring an extensive characterization of their shapes, appearances as well as the overall material composition. Current approaches perform this analysis based on bulk segmentation and characterization of particles, and rely on rudimentary postprocessing techniques to separate touching particles. However, due to their inability to reliably perform this separation as well as the need to retrain or reconfigure most methods for each new image, these approaches leave untapped potential to be leveraged. Here, we propose an instance segmentation method that is able to extract individual particles from large micro CT images taken from mineral samples embedded in an epoxy matrix. Our approach is based on the powerful nnU-Net framework, introduces a particle size normalization, makes use of a border-core representation to enable instance segmentation and is trained with a large dataset containing particles of numerous different materials and minerals. We demonstrate that our approach can be applied out-of-the box to a large variety of particle types, including materials and appearances that have not been part of the training set. Thus, no further manual annotations and retraining are required when applying the method to new mineral samples, enabling substantially higher scalability of experiments than existing methods. Our code and dataset are made publicly available.