Fully convolutional architecture vs sliding-window CNN for corneal endothelium cell segmentation

Juan Pedro Vigueras Guillén, Busra Sari, Sten Goes, Hans G. Lemij, Jeroen van Rooij, Koen Vermeer, Lucas van Vliet

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Corneal endothelium (CE) images provide valuable clinical information regarding the health state of the cornea. Computation of the clinical morphometric parameters requires the segmentation of endothelial cell images. Current techniques to image the endothelium in vivo deliver low quality images, which makes automatic segmentation a complicated task. Here, we present two convolutional neural networks (CNN) to segment CE images: a global fully convolutional approach based on U-net, and a local sliding-window network (SW-net). We propose to use probabilistic labels instead of binary, we evaluate a preprocessing method to enhance the contrast of images, and we introduce a postprocessing method based on Fourier analysis and watershed to convert the CNN output images into the final cell segmentation. Both methods are applied to 50 images acquired with an SP-1P Topcon specular microscope. Estimates are compared against a manual delineation made by a trained observer.


U-net (AUC=0.9938) yields slightly sharper, clearer images than SW-net (AUC=0.9921). After postprocessing, U-net obtains a DICE=0.981 and a MHD=0.22 (modified Hausdorff distance), whereas SW-net yields a DICE=0.978 and a MHD=0.30. U-net generates a wrong cell segmentation in only 0.48% of the cells, versus 0.92% for the SW-net. U-net achieves statistically significant better precision and accuracy than both, Topcon and SW-net, for the estimates of three clinical parameters: cell density (ECD), polymegethism (CV), and pleomorphism (HEX). The mean relative error in U-net for the parameters is 0.4% in ECD, 2.8% in CV, and 1.3% in HEX. The computation time to segment an image and estimate the parameters is barely a few seconds.


Both methods presented here provide a statistically significant improvement over the state of the art. U-net has reached the smallest error rate. We suggest a segmentation refinement based on our previous work to further improve the performance.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBMC Biomedical Engineering
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Convolutional neural networks
  • U-net
  • Sliding-window CNN
  • Fourier analysis
  • Specular microscopy


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