Brain extraction in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data is an important segmentation step in many neuroimaging preprocessing pipelines. Image segmentation is one of the research fields in which deep learning had the biggest impact in recent years enabling high precision segmentation with minimal compute. Consequently, traditional brain extraction methods are now being replaced by deep learning-based methods. Here, we used a unique dataset comprising 568 T1-weighted (T1w) MR images from 191 different studies in combination with cutting edge deep learning methods to build a fast, high-precision brain extraction tool called deepbet. deepbet uses LinkNet, a modern UNet architecture, in a two stage prediction process. This increases its segmentation performance, setting a novel state-of-the-art performance during cross-validation with a median Dice score (DSC) of 99.0% on unseen datasets, outperforming current state of the art models (DSC = 97.8% and DSC = 97.9%). While current methods are more sensitive to outliers, resulting in Dice scores as low as 76.5%, deepbet manages to achieve a Dice score of > 96.9% for all samples. Finally, our model accelerates brain extraction by a factor of ~10 compared to current methods, enabling the processing of one image in ~2 seconds on low level hardware.
The brain-age gap is one of the most investigated risk markers for brain changes across disorders. While the field is progressing towards large-scale models, recently incorporating uncertainty estimates, no model to date provides the single-subject risk assessment capability essential for clinical application. In order to enable the clinical use of brain-age as a biomarker, we here combine uncertainty-aware deep Neural Networks with conformal prediction theory. This approach provides statistical guarantees with respect to single-subject uncertainty estimates and allows for the calculation of an individual's probability for accelerated brain-aging. Building on this, we show empirically in a sample of N=16,794 participants that 1. a lower or comparable error as state-of-the-art, large-scale brain-age models, 2. the statistical guarantees regarding single-subject uncertainty estimation indeed hold for every participant, and 3. that the higher individual probabilities of accelerated brain-aging derived from our model are associated with Alzheimer's Disease, Bipolar Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder.
The deviation between chronological age and age predicted from neuroimaging data has been identified as a sensitive risk-marker of cross-disorder brain changes, growing into a cornerstone of biological age-research. However, Machine Learning models underlying the field do not consider uncertainty, thereby confounding results with training data density and variability. Also, existing models are commonly based on homogeneous training sets, often not independently validated, and cannot be shared due to data protection issues. Here, we introduce an uncertainty-aware, shareable, and transparent Monte-Carlo Dropout Composite-Quantile-Regression (MCCQR) Neural Network trained on N=10,691 datasets from the German National Cohort. The MCCQR model provides robust, distribution-free uncertainty quantification in high-dimensional neuroimaging data, achieving lower error rates compared to existing models across ten recruitment centers and in three independent validation samples (N=4,004). In two examples, we demonstrate that it prevents spurious associations and increases power to detect accelerated brain-aging. We make the pre-trained model publicly available.
Age prediction based on Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) data of the brain is a biomarker to quantify the progress of brain diseases and aging. Current approaches rely on preparing the data with multiple preprocessing steps, such as registering voxels to a standardized brain atlas, which yields a significant computational overhead, hampers widespread usage and results in the predicted brain-age to be sensitive to preprocessing parameters. Here we describe a 3D Convolutional Neural Network (CNN) based on the ResNet architecture being trained on raw, non-registered T$_ 1$-weighted MRI data of N=10,691 samples from the German National Cohort and additionally applied and validated in N=2,173 samples from three independent studies using transfer learning. For comparison, state-of-the-art models using preprocessed neuroimaging data are trained and validated on the same samples. The 3D CNN using raw neuroimaging data predicts age with a mean average deviation of 2.84 years, outperforming the state-of-the-art brain-age models using preprocessed data. Since our approach is invariant to preprocessing software and parameter choices, it enables faster, more robust and more accurate brain-age modeling.
Despite the tremendous efforts to democratize machine learning, especially in applied-science, the application is still often hampered by the lack of coding skills. As we consider programmatic understanding key to building effective and efficient machine learning solutions, we argue for a novel educational approach that builds upon the accessibility and acceptance of graphical user interfaces to convey programming skills to an applied-science target group. We outline a proof-of-concept, open-source web application, the PHOTON Wizard, which dynamically translates GUI interactions into valid source code for the Python machine learning framework PHOTON. Thereby, users possessing theoretical machine learning knowledge gain key insights into the model development workflow as well as an intuitive understanding of custom implementations. Specifically, the PHOTON Wizard integrates the concept of Educational Machine Learning Code Generators to teach users how to write code for designing, training, optimizing and evaluating custom machine learning pipelines.
This article describes the implementation and use of PHOTON, a high-level Python API designed to simplify and accelerate the process of machine learning model development. It enables designing both basic and advanced machine learning pipeline architectures and automatizes the repetitive training, optimization and evaluation workflow. PHOTON offers easy access to established machine learning toolboxes as well as the possibility to integrate custom algorithms and solutions for any part of the model construction and evaluation process. By adding a layer of abstraction incorporating current best practices it offers an easy-to-use, flexible approach to implementing fast, reproducible, and unbiased machine learning solutions.
We currently observe a disconcerting phenomenon in machine learning studies in psychiatry: While we would expect larger samples to yield better results due to the availability of more data, larger machine learning studies consistently show much weaker performance than the numerous small-scale studies. Here, we systematically investigated this effect focusing on one of the most heavily studied questions in the field, namely the classification of patients suffering from Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) and healthy controls. Drawing upon a balanced sample of $N = 1,868$ MDD patients and healthy controls from our recent international Predictive Analytics Competition (PAC), we first trained and tested a classification model on the full dataset which yielded an accuracy of 61%. Next, we mimicked the process by which researchers would draw samples of various sizes ($N=4$ to $N=150$) from the population and showed a strong risk of overestimation. Specifically, for small sample sizes ($N=20$), we observe accuracies of up to 95%. For medium sample sizes ($N=100$) accuracies up to 75% were found. Importantly, further investigation showed that sufficiently large test sets effectively protect against performance overestimation whereas larger datasets per se do not. While these results question the validity of a substantial part of the current literature, we outline the relatively low-cost remedy of larger test sets.