Performance evaluation of deep neural ensembles toward malaria parasite detection in thin-blood smear images.

Rajaraman S, Jaeger S, Antani SK

PeerJ 7:e6977


Background. Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by Plasmodium parasites that infect the red blood cells (RBCs). Manual identification and counting of parasitized cells in microscopic thick/thin-film blood examination remains the common, but burdensome method for disease diagnosis. Its diagnostic accuracy is adversely impacted by inter/intra-observer variability, particularly in large-scale screening under resource-constrained settings. Introduction. State-of-the-art computer-aided diagnostic tools based on data-driven deep learning algorithms like convolutional neural network (CNN) has become the architecture of choice for image recognition tasks. However, CNNs suffer from high variance and may overfit due to their sensitivity to training data fluctuations. Objective. The primary aim of this study is to reduce model variance, improve robustness and generalization through constructing model ensembles toward detecting parasitized cells in thin-blood smear images. Methods. We evaluate the performance of custom and pretrained CNNs and construct an optimal model ensemble toward the challenge of classifying parasitized and normal cells in thin-blood smear images. Cross-validation studies are performed at the patient level to ensure preventing data leakage into the validation and reduce generalization errors. The models are evaluated in terms of the following performance metrics: (a) Accuracy; (b) Area under the receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curve (AUC); (c) Mean squared error (MSE); (d) Precision; (e) F-score; and (f) Matthews Correlation Coefficient (MCC). Results. It is observed that the ensemble model constructed with VGG-19 and SqueezeNet outperformed the state-of-the-art in several performance metrics toward classifying the parasitized and uninfected cells to aid in improved disease screening. Conclusions. Ensemble learning reduces the model variance by optimally combining the predictions of multiple models and decreases the sensitivity to the specifics of training data and selection of training algorithms. The performance of the model ensemble simulates real-world conditions with reduced variance, overfitting and leads to improved generalization.

Rajaraman S, Jaeger S, Antani SK. Performance evaluation of deep neural ensembles toward malaria parasite detection in thin-blood smear images. 
PeerJ 7:e6977