Date: 08 Apr 2006

Automated image processing method for the diagnosis and classification of malaria on thin blood smears

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Malaria is a serious global health problem, and rapid, accurate diagnosis is required to control the disease. An image processing algorithm to automate the diagnosis of malaria on thin blood smears is developed. The image classification system is designed to positively identify malaria parasites present in thin blood smears, and differentiate the species of malaria. Images are acquired using a charge-coupled device camera connected to a light microscope. Morphological and novel threshold selection techniques are used to identify erythrocytes (red blood cells) and possible parasites present on microscopic slides. Image features based on colour, texture and the geometry of the cells and parasites are generated, as well as features that make use of a priori knowledge of the classification problem and mimic features used by human technicians. A two-stage tree classifier using backpropogation feedforward neural networks distinguishes between true and false positives, and then diagnoses the species (Plasmodium falciparum, P. vivax, P. ovale or P. malariae) of the infection. Malaria samples obtained from the Department of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases at the University of the Witwatersrand Medical School are used for training and testing of the system. Infected erythrocytes are positively identified with a sensitivity of 85% and a positive predictive value (PPV) of 81%, which makes the method highly sensitive at diagnosing a complete sample provided many views are analysed. Species were correctly determined for 11 out of 15 samples.

Nicholas E. Ross conducted research while at the University of the Witwatersrand School of Electrical and Information Engineering