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Deep-learning computer vision can identify increased nuchal translucency in the first trimester of pregnancy.

Prenatal Diagnosis 2024 April 2
OBJECTIVE: Many fetal anomalies can already be diagnosed by ultrasound in the first trimester of pregnancy. Unfortunately, in clinical practice, detection rates for anomalies in early pregnancy remain low. Our aim was to use an automated image segmentation algorithm to detect one of the most common fetal anomalies: a thickened nuchal translucency (NT), which is a marker for genetic and structural anomalies.

METHODS: Standardized mid-sagittal ultrasound images of the fetal head and chest were collected for 560 fetuses between 11 and 13 weeks and 6 days of gestation, 88 (15.7%) of whom had an NT thicker than 3.5 mm. Image quality was graded as high or low by two fetal medicine experts. Images were divided into a training-set (n = 451, 55 thick NT) and a test-set (n = 109, 33 thick NT). We then trained a U-Net convolutional neural network to segment the fetus and the NT region and computed the NT:fetus ratio of these regions. The ability of this ratio to separate thick (anomalous) NT regions from healthy, typical NT regions was first evaluated in ground-truth segmentation to validate the metric and then with predicted segmentation to validate our algorithm, both using the area under the receiver operator curve (AUROC).

RESULTS: The ground-truth NT:fetus ratio detected thick NTs with 0.97 AUROC in both the training and test sets. The fetus and NT regions were detected with a Dice score of 0.94 in the test set. The NT:fetus ratio based on model segmentation detected thick NTs with an AUROC of 0.96 relative to clinician labels. At a 91% specificity, 94% of thick NT cases were detected (sensitivity) in the test set. The detection rate was statistically higher (p = 0.003) in high versus low-quality images (AUROC 0.98 vs. 0.90, respectively).

CONCLUSION: Our model provides an explainable deep-learning method for detecting increased NT. This technique can be used to screen for other fetal anomalies in the first trimester of pregnancy.

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