Cyclic Learning: Bridging Image-level Labels and Nuclei Instance Segmentation

by   Yang Zhou, et al.

Nuclei instance segmentation on histopathology images is of great clinical value for disease analysis. Generally, fully-supervised algorithms for this task require pixel-wise manual annotations, which is especially time-consuming and laborious for the high nuclei density. To alleviate the annotation burden, we seek to solve the problem through image-level weakly supervised learning, which is underexplored for nuclei instance segmentation. Compared with most existing methods using other weak annotations (scribble, point, etc.) for nuclei instance segmentation, our method is more labor-saving. The obstacle to using image-level annotations in nuclei instance segmentation is the lack of adequate location information, leading to severe nuclei omission or overlaps. In this paper, we propose a novel image-level weakly supervised method, called cyclic learning, to solve this problem. Cyclic learning comprises a front-end classification task and a back-end semi-supervised instance segmentation task to benefit from multi-task learning (MTL). We utilize a deep learning classifier with interpretability as the front-end to convert image-level labels to sets of high-confidence pseudo masks and establish a semi-supervised architecture as the back-end to conduct nuclei instance segmentation under the supervision of these pseudo masks. Most importantly, cyclic learning is designed to circularly share knowledge between the front-end classifier and the back-end semi-supervised part, which allows the whole system to fully extract the underlying information from image-level labels and converge to a better optimum. Experiments on three datasets demonstrate the good generality of our method, which outperforms other image-level weakly supervised methods for nuclei instance segmentation, and achieves comparable performance to fully-supervised methods.


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