Fetal Magnetic Resonance Imaging at low field strengths is emerging as an exciting direction in perinatal health. Clinical low field (0.55T) scanners are beneficial for fetal imaging due to their reduced susceptibility-induced artefacts, increased T2* values, and wider bore (widening access for the increasingly obese pregnant population). However, the lack of standard automated image processing tools such as segmentation and reconstruction hampers wider clinical use. In this study, we introduce a semi-automatic pipeline using quantitative MRI for the fetal body at low field strength resulting in fast and detailed quantitative T2* relaxometry analysis of all major fetal body organs. Multi-echo dynamic sequences of the fetal body were acquired and reconstructed into a single high-resolution volume using deformable slice-to-volume reconstruction, generating both structural and quantitative T2* 3D volumes. A neural network trained using a semi-supervised approach was created to automatically segment these fetal body 3D volumes into ten different organs (resulting in dice values > 0.74 for 8 out of 10 organs). The T2* values revealed a strong relationship with GA in the lungs, liver, and kidney parenchyma (R^2>0.5). This pipeline was used successfully for a wide range of GAs (17-40 weeks), and is robust to motion artefacts. Low field fetal MRI can be used to perform advanced MRI analysis, and is a viable option for clinical scanning.
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 number of international benchmarking competitions is steadily increasing in various fields of machine learning (ML) research and practice. So far, however, little is known about the common practice as well as bottlenecks faced by the community in tackling the research questions posed. To shed light on the status quo of algorithm development in the specific field of biomedical imaging analysis, we designed an international survey that was issued to all participants of challenges conducted in conjunction with the IEEE ISBI 2021 and MICCAI 2021 conferences (80 competitions in total). The survey covered participants' expertise and working environments, their chosen strategies, as well as algorithm characteristics. A median of 72% challenge participants took part in the survey. According to our results, knowledge exchange was the primary incentive (70%) for participation, while the reception of prize money played only a minor role (16%). While a median of 80 working hours was spent on method development, a large portion of participants stated that they did not have enough time for method development (32%). 25% perceived the infrastructure to be a bottleneck. Overall, 94% of all solutions were deep learning-based. Of these, 84% were based on standard architectures. 43% of the respondents reported that the data samples (e.g., images) were too large to be processed at once. This was most commonly addressed by patch-based training (69%), downsampling (37%), and solving 3D analysis tasks as a series of 2D tasks. K-fold cross-validation on the training set was performed by only 37% of the participants and only 50% of the participants performed ensembling based on multiple identical models (61%) or heterogeneous models (39%). 48% of the respondents applied postprocessing steps.
Fetal brain magnetic resonance imaging serves as an emerging modality for prenatal counseling and diagnosis in disorders affecting the brain. Machine learning based segmentation plays an important role in the quantification of brain development. However, a limiting factor is the lack of sufficiently large, labeled training data. Our study explored the application of SPADE, a conditional general adversarial network (cGAN), which learns the mapping from the label to the image space. The input to the network was super-resolution T2-weighted cerebral MRI data of 120 fetuses (gestational age range: 20-35 weeks, normal and pathological), which were annotated for 7 different tissue categories. SPADE networks were trained on 256*256 2D slices of the reconstructed volumes (image and label pairs) in each orthogonal orientation. To combine the generated volumes from each orientation into one image, a simple mean of the outputs of the three networks was taken. Based on the label maps only, we synthesized highly realistic images. However, some finer details, like small vessels were not synthesized. A structural similarity index (SSIM) of 0.972+-0.016 and correlation coefficient of 0.974+-0.008 were achieved. To demonstrate the capacity of the cGAN to create new anatomical variants, we artificially dilated the ventricles in the segmentation map and created synthetic MRI of different degrees of fetal hydrocephalus. cGANs, such as the SPADE algorithm, allow the generation of hypothetically unseen scenarios and anatomical configurations in the label space, which data in turn can be utilized for training various machine learning algorithms. In the future, this algorithm would be used for generating large, synthetic datasets representing fetal brain development. These datasets would potentially improve the performance of currently available segmentation networks.
In-utero fetal MRI is emerging as an important tool in the diagnosis and analysis of the developing human brain. Automatic segmentation of the developing fetal brain is a vital step in the quantitative analysis of prenatal neurodevelopment both in the research and clinical context. However, manual segmentation of cerebral structures is time-consuming and prone to error and inter-observer variability. Therefore, we organized the Fetal Tissue Annotation (FeTA) Challenge in 2021 in order to encourage the development of automatic segmentation algorithms on an international level. The challenge utilized FeTA Dataset, an open dataset of fetal brain MRI reconstructions segmented into seven different tissues (external cerebrospinal fluid, grey matter, white matter, ventricles, cerebellum, brainstem, deep grey matter). 20 international teams participated in this challenge, submitting a total of 21 algorithms for evaluation. In this paper, we provide a detailed analysis of the results from both a technical and clinical perspective. All participants relied on deep learning methods, mainly U-Nets, with some variability present in the network architecture, optimization, and image pre- and post-processing. The majority of teams used existing medical imaging deep learning frameworks. The main differences between the submissions were the fine tuning done during training, and the specific pre- and post-processing steps performed. The challenge results showed that almost all submissions performed similarly. Four of the top five teams used ensemble learning methods. However, one team's algorithm performed significantly superior to the other submissions, and consisted of an asymmetrical U-Net network architecture. This paper provides a first of its kind benchmark for future automatic multi-tissue segmentation algorithms for the developing human brain in utero.
The quantitative assessment of the developing human brain in utero is crucial to fully understand neurodevelopment. Thus, automated multi-tissue fetal brain segmentation algorithms are being developed, which in turn require annotated data to be trained. However, the available annotated fetal brain datasets are limited in number and heterogeneity, hampering domain adaptation strategies for robust segmentation. In this context, we use FaBiAN, a Fetal Brain magnetic resonance Acquisition Numerical phantom, to simulate various realistic magnetic resonance images of the fetal brain along with its class labels. We demonstrate that these multiple synthetic annotated data, generated at no cost and further reconstructed using the target super-resolution technique, can be successfully used for domain adaptation of a deep learning method that segments seven brain tissues. Overall, the accuracy of the segmentation is significantly enhanced, especially in the cortical gray matter, the white matter, the cerebellum, the deep gray matter and the brain stem.
Accurate characterization of in utero human brain maturation is critical as it involves complex and interconnected structural and functional processes that may influence health later in life. Magnetic resonance imaging is a powerful tool to investigate equivocal neurological patterns during fetal development. However, the number of acquisitions of satisfactory quality available in this cohort of sensitive subjects remains scarce, thus hindering the validation of advanced image processing techniques. Numerical phantoms can mitigate these limitations by providing a controlled environment with a known ground truth. In this work, we present FaBiAN, an open-source Fetal Brain magnetic resonance Acquisition Numerical phantom that simulates clinical T2-weighted fast spin echo sequences of the fetal brain. This unique tool is based on a general, flexible and realistic setup that includes stochastic fetal movements, thus providing images of the fetal brain throughout maturation comparable to clinical acquisitions. We demonstrate its value to evaluate the robustness and optimize the accuracy of an algorithm for super-resolution fetal brain magnetic resonance imaging from simulated motion-corrupted 2D low-resolution series as compared to a synthetic high-resolution reference volume. We also show that the images generated can complement clinical datasets to support data-intensive deep learning methods for fetal brain tissue segmentation.
It is critical to quantitatively analyse the developing human fetal brain in order to fully understand neurodevelopment in both normal fetuses and those with congenital disorders. To facilitate this analysis, automatic multi-tissue fetal brain segmentation algorithms are needed, which in turn requires open databases of segmented fetal brains. Here we introduce a publicly available database of 50 manually segmented pathological and non-pathological fetal magnetic resonance brain volume reconstructions across a range of gestational ages (20 to 33 weeks) into 7 different tissue categories (external cerebrospinal fluid, grey matter, white matter, ventricles, cerebellum, deep grey matter, brainstem/spinal cord). In addition, we quantitatively evaluate the accuracy of several automatic multi-tissue segmentation algorithms of the developing human fetal brain. Four research groups participated, submitting a total of 10 algorithms, demonstrating the benefits the database for the development of automatic algorithms.