A protocol for annotation of total body photography for machine learning to analyze skin phenotype and lesion classification

Front Med (Lausanne). 2024 Apr 9:11:1380984. doi: 10.3389/fmed.2024.1380984. eCollection 2024.


Introduction: Artificial Intelligence (AI) has proven effective in classifying skin cancers using dermoscopy images. In experimental settings, algorithms have outperformed expert dermatologists in classifying melanoma and keratinocyte cancers. However, clinical application is limited when algorithms are presented with 'untrained' or out-of-distribution lesion categories, often misclassifying benign lesions as malignant, or misclassifying malignant lesions as benign. Another limitation often raised is the lack of clinical context (e.g., medical history) used as input for the AI decision process. The increasing use of Total Body Photography (TBP) in clinical examinations presents new opportunities for AI to perform holistic analysis of the whole patient, rather than a single lesion. Currently there is a lack of existing literature or standards for image annotation of TBP, or on preserving patient privacy during the machine learning process.

Methods: This protocol describes the methods for the acquisition of patient data, including TBP, medical history, and genetic risk factors, to create a comprehensive dataset for machine learning. 500 patients of various risk profiles will be recruited from two clinical sites (Australia and Spain), to undergo temporal total body imaging, complete surveys on sun behaviors and medical history, and provide a DNA sample. This patient-level metadata is applied to image datasets using DICOM labels. Anonymization and masking methods are applied to preserve patient privacy. A two-step annotation process is followed to label skin images for lesion detection and classification using deep learning models. Skin phenotype characteristics are extracted from images, including innate and facultative skin color, nevi distribution, and UV damage. Several algorithms will be developed relating to skin lesion detection, segmentation and classification, 3D mapping, change detection, and risk profiling. Simultaneously, explainable AI (XAI) methods will be incorporated to foster clinician and patient trust. Additionally, a publicly released dataset of anonymized annotated TBP images will be released for an international challenge to advance the development of new algorithms using this type of data.

Conclusion: The anticipated results from this protocol are validated AI-based tools to provide holistic risk assessment for individual lesions, and risk stratification of patients to assist clinicians in monitoring for skin cancer.

Keywords: artificial intelligence; computer image analyses; computer—aided diagnosis; dermatology; melanoma; total body photography.

Grants and funding

The author(s) declare that financial support was received for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article. This work has been supported by the iToBoS (Intelligent Total Body Scanner for Early Detection of Melanoma), project funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme, AND under grant agreement no. 965221; NHMRC European Collaborative Grant (iToBoS) 2020/GNT2007014.