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In BMC medical imaging

BACKGROUND : Manual microscopic examination remains the golden standard for malaria diagnosis. But it is laborious, and pathologists with experience are needed for accurate diagnosis. The need for computer-aided diagnosis methods is driven by the enormous workload and difficulties associated with manual microscopy based examination. While the importance of computer-aided diagnosis is increasing at an enormous pace, fostered by the advancement of deep learning algorithms, there are still challenges in detecting small objects such as malaria parasites in microscopic images of blood films. The state-of-the-art (SOTA) deep learning-based object detection models are inefficient in detecting small objects accurately because they are underrepresented on benchmark datasets. The performance of these models is affected by the loss of detailed spatial information due to in-network feature map downscaling. This is due to the fact that the SOTA models cannot directly process high-resolution images due to their low-resolution network input layer.

METHODS : In this study, an efficient and robust tile-based image processing method is proposed to enhance the performance of malaria parasites detection SOTA models. Three variants of YOLOV4-based object detectors are adopted considering their detection accuracy and speed. These models were trained using tiles generated from 1780 high-resolution P. falciparum-infected thick smear microscopic images. The tiling of high-resolution images improves the performance of the object detection models. The detection accuracy and the generalization capability of these models have been evaluated using three datasets acquired from different regions.

RESULTS : The best-performing model using the proposed tile-based approach outperforms the baseline method significantly (Recall, [95.3%] vs [57%] and Average Precision, [87.1%] vs [76%]). Furthermore, the proposed method has outperformed the existing approaches that used different machine learning techniques evaluated on similar datasets.

CONCLUSIONS : The experimental results show that the proposed method significantly improves P. falciparum detection from thick smear microscopic images while maintaining real-time detection speed. Furthermore, the proposed method has the potential to assist and reduce the workload of laboratory technicians in malaria-endemic remote areas of developing countries where there is a critical skill gap and a shortage of experts.

Shewajo Fetulhak Abdurahman, Fante Kinde Anlay


Deep learning, Malaria, Object detection, Plasmodium falciparum, Thick smear microscopic image, Tile-based image processing, YOLOV4