Can a regression network produce an accurate localization mask? In this research we prove such is the case. From the value of the a volume or area biomarker we are able to infer with high accuracy the structures that lead to it. Please see details in the Transactions on Medical Imaging journal paper https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/8954767 . The abstract reads as follows:

Biomarker estimation methods from medical images have traditionally followed a segment-and-measure strategy. Deep-learning regression networks have changed such a paradigm, enabling the direct estimation of biomarkers in databases where segmentation masks are not present. While such methods achieve high performance, they operate as a black-box. In this work, we present a novel deep learning network structure that, when trained with only the value of the biomarker, can perform biomarker regression and the generation of an accurate localization mask simultaneously, thus enabling a qualitative assessment of the image locus that relates to the quantitative result. We showcase the proposed method with three different network structures and compare their performance against direct regression networks in four different problems: pectoralis muscle area (PMA), subcutaneous fat area (SFA), liver mass area in single slice computed tomography (CT), and Agatston score estimated from non-contrast thoracic CT images (CAC). Our results show that the proposed method improves the performance with respect to direct biomarker regression methods (correlation coefficient of 0.978, 0.998, and 0.950 for the proposed method in comparison to 0.971, 0.982, and 0.936 for the reference regression methods on PMA, SFA and CAC respectively) while achieving good localization (DICE coefficients of 0.875, 0.914 for PMA and SFA respectively, p < 0.05 for all pairs). We observe the same improvement in regression results comparing the proposed method with those obtained by quantify the outputs using an U-Net segmentation network (0.989 and 0.951 respectively). We, therefore, conclude that it is possible to obtain simultaneously good biomarker regression and localization when training biomarker regression networks using only the biomarker value.

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