BlobCUT: A Contrastive Learning Method to Support Small Blob Detection in Medical Imaging

Teng Li, Yanzhe Xu, Teresa Wu, Jennifer R. Charlton, Kevin M. Bennett, Firas Al-Hindawi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Medical imaging-based biomarkers derived from small objects (e.g., cell nuclei) play a crucial role in medical applications. However, detecting and segmenting small objects (a.k.a. blobs) remains a challenging task. In this research, we propose a novel 3D small blob detector called BlobCUT. BlobCUT is an unpaired image-to-image (I2I) translation model that falls under the Contrastive Unpaired Translation paradigm. It employs a blob synthesis module to generate synthetic 3D blobs with corresponding masks. This is incorporated into the iterative model training as the ground truth. The I2I translation process is designed with two constraints: (1) a convexity consistency constraint that relies on Hessian analysis to preserve the geometric properties and (2) an intensity distribution consistency constraint based on Kullback-Leibler divergence to preserve the intensity distribution of blobs. BlobCUT learns the inherent noise distribution from the target noisy blob images and performs image translation from the noisy domain to the clean domain, effectively functioning as a denoising process to support blob identification. To validate the performance of BlobCUT, we evaluate it on a 3D simulated dataset of blobs and a 3D MRI dataset of mouse kidneys. We conduct a comparative analysis involving six state-of-the-art methods. Our findings reveal that BlobCUT exhibits superior performance and training efficiency, utilizing only 56.6% of the training time required by the state-of-the-art BlobDetGAN. This underscores the effectiveness of BlobCUT in accurately segmenting small blobs while achieving notable gains in training efficiency.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1372
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • blob detection
  • contrastive learning
  • glomeruli segmentation
  • Hessian analysis
  • imaging biomarker

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Bioengineering


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