Bias reduction in representation of histopathology images using deep feature selection

Azam Asilian Bidgoli, Shahryar Rahnamayan, Taher Dehkharghanian, Ali Grami, H. R. Tizhoosh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Appearing traces of bias in deep networks is a serious reliability issue which can play a significant role in ethics and generalization related concerns. Recent studies report that the deep features extracted from the histopathology images of The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA), the largest publicly available archive, are surprisingly able to accurately classify the whole slide images (WSIs) based on their acquisition site while these features are extracted to primarily discriminate cancer types. This is clear evidence that the utilized Deep Neural Networks (DNNs) unexpectedly detect the specific patterns of the source site, i.e, the hospital of origin, rather than histomorphologic patterns, a biased behavior resulting in degraded trust and generalization. This observation motivated us to propose a method to alleviate the destructive impact of hospital bias through a novel feature selection process. To this effect, we have proposed an evolutionary strategy to select a small set of optimal features to not only accurately represent the histological patterns of tissue samples but also to eliminate the features contributing to internal bias toward the institution. The defined objective function for an optimal subset selection of features is to minimize the accuracy of the model to classify the source institutions which is basically defined as a bias indicator. By the conducted experiments, the selected features extracted by the state-of-the-art network trained on TCGA images (i.e., the KimiaNet), considerably decreased the institutional bias, while improving the quality of features to discriminate the cancer types. In addition, the selected features could significantly improve the results of external validation compared to the entire set of features which has been negatively affected by bias. The proposed scheme is a model-independent approach which can be employed when it is possible to define a bias indicator as a participating objective in a feature selection process; even with unknown bias sources.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number19994
JournalScientific reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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