DCE-MRI data analysis for cancer area classification
OBJECTIVES: The paper aims at improving the support of medical researchers in the context of in-vivo cancer imaging. Morphological and functional parameters obtained by dynamic contrast-enhanced MRI (DCE-MRI) techniques are analyzed, which aim at investigating the development of tumor microvessels. The main contribution consists in proposing a machine learning methodology to segment automatically these MRI data, by isolating tumor areas with different meaning, in a histological sense. METHODS: The proposed approach is based on a three-step procedure: i) robust feature extraction from raw time-intensity curves, ii) voxel segmentation, and iii) voxel classification based on a learning-by-example approach. In the first step, few robust features that compactly represent the response of the tissue to the DCE-MRI analysis are computed. The second step provides a segmentation based on the mean shift (MS) paradigm, which has recently shown to be robust and useful for different and heterogeneous clustering tasks. Finally, in the third step, a support vector machine (SVM) is trained to classify voxels according to the labels obtained by the clustering phase (i.e., each class corresponds to a cluster). Indeed, the SVM is able to classify new unseen subjects with the same kind of tumor. RESULTS: Experiments on different subjects affected by the same kind of tumor evidence that the extracted regions by both the MS clustering and the SVM classifier exhibit a precise medical meaning, as carefully validated by the medical researchers. Moreover, our approach is more stable and robust than methods based on quantification of DCE-MRI data by means of pharmacokinetic models. CONCLUSIONS: The proposed method allows to analyze the DCE-MRI data more precisely and faster than previous automated or manual approaches.