Due to the increasing availability of whole slide scanners facilitating digitization of histopathological tissue, large amounts of digital image data are being generated. Accordingly, there is a strong demand for the development of computer based image analysis systems. Here, we address application scenarios in histopathology consisting of sparse, small objects-of-interest occurring in the large gigapixel images. To tackle the thereby arising challenges, we propose two different CNN cascade approaches which are subsequently applied to segment the glomeruli in whole slide images of the kidney and compared with conventional fully-convolutional networks. To facilitate unbiased evaluation, eight-fold cross-validation is performed and finally means and standard deviations are reported. Overall, with the best performing cascade approach, single CNNs are outperformed and a pixel-level Dice similarity coefficient of 0.90 is obtained (precision: 0.89, recall: 0.92). Combined with qualitative and further object-level analyses the obtained results are assessed as excellent also compared to previous approaches. We can state that especially one of the proposed cascade networks proved to be a highly powerful tool providing the best segmentation accuracies and also keeping the computing time at the lowest level. This work facilitates accurate automated segmentation of renal whole slide images which consequently allows fully-automated big data analyses for the assessment of medical treatments. Furthermore, this approach can also easily be adapted to other similar biomedical application scenarios.
Keywords: Cascades; Fully-convolutional network; Kidney; Segmentation.
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