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.
Diabetic foot ulcers are a common manifestation of lesions on the diabetic foot, a syndrome acquired as a long-term complication of diabetes mellitus. Accompanying neuropathy and vascular damage promote acquisition of pressure injuries and tissue death due to ischaemia. Affected areas are prone to infections, hindering the healing progress. The research at hand investigates an approach on classification of infection and ischaemia, conducted as part of the Diabetic Foot Ulcer Challenge (DFUC) 2021. Different models of the EfficientNet family are utilized in ensembles. An extension strategy for the training data is applied, involving pseudo-labeling for unlabeled images, and extensive generation of synthetic images via pix2pixHD to cope with severe class imbalances. The resulting extended training dataset features $8.68$ times the size of the baseline and shows a real to synthetic image ratio of $1:3$. Performances of models and ensembles trained on the baseline and extended training dataset are compared. Synthetic images featured a broad qualitative variety. Results show that models trained on the extended training dataset as well as their ensemble benefit from the large extension. F1-Scores for rare classes receive outstanding boosts, while those for common classes are either not harmed or boosted moderately. A critical discussion concretizes benefits and identifies limitations, suggesting improvements. The work concludes that classification performance of individual models as well as that of ensembles can be boosted utilizing synthetic images. Especially performance for rare classes benefits notably.
* Accepted for Workshop Proceedings of the Diabetic Foot Ulcers
Challenge (DFUC) as part of the 2021 24th International Conference on Medical
Image Computing and Computer Assisted Intervention (MICCAI)