The Biomedical Image Analysis Group at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-biag) focuses on the design of computational algorithms to extract quantitative measures from biomedical data. While our emphasis is on image data (e.g., obtained via magnetic resonance imaging, computed tomography, or microscopy) our analyses also include clinical measures and genomics. The group is led by Marc Niethammer.

Our work is highly interdisciplinary and includes collaborators from a wide range of disciplines such as statistics, applied mathematics, radiology, surgery, and epidemiology. Consequently, we also publish in venues ranging from clinical journals, to medical conferences (such as MICCAI and IPMI) to computer vision conferences (such as CVPR and ECCV), to machine learning conferences (such as NeurIPS, ICML, and AAAI).

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Transport processes are ubiquitous. They are, for example, at the heart of optical flow approaches; or of perfusion imaging, where blood transport is assessed, most commonly by injecting a tracer. An advection-diffusion equation is widely used to describe these transport phenomena. Our goal is estimating the underlying physics of advection-diffusion equations, expressed as velocity and diffusion tensor fields. We propose a learning framework (YETI) building on an auto-encoder structure between 2D and 3D image time-series, which incorporates the advection-diffusion model. To help with identifiability, we develop an advection-diffusion simulator which allows pre-training of our model by supervised learning using the velocity and diffusion tensor fields. Instead of directly learning these velocity and diffusion tensor fields, we introduce representations that assure incompressible flow and symmetric positive semi-definite diffusion fields and demonstrate the additional benefits of these representations on improving estimation accuracy. We further use transfer learning to apply YETI on a public brain magnetic resonance (MR) perfusion dataset of stroke patients and show its ability to successfully distinguish stroke lesions from normal brain regions via the estimated velocity and diffusion tensor fields.

Perfusion imaging (PI) is clinically used to assess strokes and brain tumors. Commonly used PI approaches based on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) measure the effect of a contrast agent moving through blood vessels and into tissue. Contrast-agent free approaches, for example, based on intravoxel incoherent motion, also exist, but are so far not routinely used clinically. These methods rely on estimating on the arterial input function (AIF) to approximately model tissue perfusion, neglecting spatial dependencies, and reliably estimating the AIF is also non-trivial, leading to difficulties with standardizing perfusion measures. In this work we therefore propose a data-assimilation approach (PIANO) which estimates the velocity and diffusion fields of an advection-diffusion model that best explains the contrast dynamics. PIANO accounts for spatial dependencies and neither requires estimating the AIF nor relies on a particular contrast agent bolus shape. Specifically, we propose a convenient parameterization of the estimation problem, a numerical estimation approach, and extensively evaluate PIANO. We demonstrate that PIANO can successfully resolve velocity and diffusion field ambiguities and results in sensitive measures for the assessment of stroke, comparing favorably to conventional measures of perfusion.

Perfusion imaging (PI) is clinically used to assess strokes and brain tumors. Commonly used PI approaches based on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) image the effect of a contrast agent moving through blood vessels and into tissue. Contrast-agent free approaches, for example, based on intravoxel incoherent motion, also exist, but are so far not routinely used clinically. MR or CT perfusion imaging based on contrast agents relies on the estimation of the arterial input function (AIF) to approximately model tissue perfusion, neglecting spatial dependencies. Reliably estimating the AIF is also non-trivial, leading to difficulties with standardizing perfusion measures. In this work we therefore propose a data-assimilation approach (PIANO) which estimates the velocity and diffusion fields of an advection-diffusion model best explaining the contrast dynamics. PIANO accounts for spatial dependencies and neither requires estimating the AIF nor relies on a particular contrast agent bolus shape. Specifically, we propose a convenient parameterization of the estimation problem, a numerical estimation approach, and extensively evaluate PIANO. We demonstrate that PIANO can successfully resolve velocity and diffusion field ambiguities and results in sensitive measures for the assessment of stroke, comparing favorably to conventional measures of perfusion.

Clustering and prediction are two primary tasks in the fields of unsupervised and supervised learning, respectively. Although much of the recent advances in machine learning have been centered around those two tasks, the interdependent, mutually beneficial relationship between them is rarely explored. One could reasonably expect appropriately clustering the data would aid the downstream prediction task and, conversely, a better prediction performance for the downstream task could potentially inform a more appropriate clustering strategy. In this work, we focus on the latter part of this mutually beneficial relationship. To this end, we introduce Deep Goal-Oriented Clustering (DGC), a probabilistic framework that clusters the data by jointly using supervision via side-information and unsupervised modeling of the inherent data structure in an end-to-end fashion. We show the effectiveness of our model on a range of datasets by achieving prediction accuracies comparable to the state-of-the-art, while, more importantly in our setting, simultaneously learning congruent clustering strategies.

Continuous-depth neural networks can be viewed as deep limits of discrete neural networks whose dynamics resemble a discretization of an ordinary differential equation (ODE). Although important steps have been taken to realize the advantages of such continuous formulations, most current techniques are not truly continuous-depth as they assume identical layers. Indeed, existing works throw into relief the myriad difficulties presented by an infinite-dimensional parameter space in learning a continuous-depth neural ODE. To this end, we introduce a shooting formulation which shifts the perspective from parameterizing a network layer-by-layer to parameterizing over optimal networks described only by a set of initial conditions. For scalability, we propose a novel particle-ensemble parametrization which fully specifies the optimal weight trajectory of the continuous-depth neural network. Our experiments show that our particle-ensemble shooting formulation can achieve competitive performance, especially on long-range forecasting tasks. Finally, though the current work is inspired by continuous-depth neural networks, the particle-ensemble shooting formulation also applies to discrete-time networks and may lead to a new fertile area of research in deep learning parametrization.