Improving Automated COVID-19 Grading with Convolutional Neural Networks in Computed Tomography Scans: An Ablation Study

C. de Vente, L. Boulogne, K. Venkadesh, C. Sital, N. Lessmann, C. Jacobs, C. Sánchez and B. van Ginneken

arXiv:2009.09725 2020.


Amidst the ongoing pandemic, several studies have shown that COVID-19 classification and grading using computed tomography (CT) images can be automated with convolutional neural networks (CNNs). Many of these studies focused on reporting initial results of algorithms that were assembled from commonly used components. The choice of these components was often pragmatic rather than systematic. For instance, several studies used 2D CNNs even though these might not be optimal for handling 3D CT volumes. This paper identifies a variety of components that increase the performance of CNN-based algorithms for COVID-19 grading from CT images. We investigated the effectiveness of using a 3D CNN instead of a 2D CNN, of using transfer learning to initialize the network, of providing automatically computed lesion maps as additional network input, and of predicting a continuous instead of a categorical output. A 3D CNN with these components achieved an area under the ROC curve (AUC) of 0.934 on our test set of 105 CT scans and an AUC of 0.923 on a publicly available set of 742 CT scans, a substantial improvement in comparison with a previously published 2D CNN. An ablation study demonstrated that in addition to using a 3D CNN instead of a 2D CNN transfer learning contributed the most and continuous output contributed the least to improving the model performance.