A robust detail preserving anisotropic diffusion for speckle reduction in ultrasound images
© Lui et al. licensee BioMed Central Ltd 2011
Published: 23 December 2011
Speckles in ultrasound imaging affect image quality and can make the post-processing difficult. Speckle reduction technologies have been employed for removing speckles for some time. One of the effective speckle reduction technologies is anisotropic diffusion. Anisotropic diffusion technology can remove the speckles effectively while preserving the edges of the image and thus has drawn great attention from image processing scientists. However, the proposed methods in the past have different disadvantages, such as being sensitive to the number of iterations or low capability of preserving the details of the ultrasound images. Thus a detail preserved anisotropic diffusion speckle reduction with less sensitive to the number of iterations is needed. This paper aims to develop this kind of technologies.
In this paper, we propose a robust detail preserving anisotropic diffusion filter (RDPAD) for speckle reduction. In order to get robust diffusion, the proposed method integrates Tukey error norm function into the detail preserving anisotropic diffusion filter (DPAD) developed recently. The proposed method could prohibit over-diffusion and thus is less sensitive to the number of iterations
The proposed anisotropic diffusion can preserve the important structure information of the original image while reducing speckles. It is also less sensitive to the number of iterations. Experimental results on real ultrasound images show the effectiveness of the proposed anisotropic diffusion filter.
Medical imaging techniques have obtained great development in the past decades and have been found different applications in disease diagnosis. One of these important imaging techniques is ultrasound imaging. ultrasound imaging has many advantages such as noninvasiveness, portability, and low price, which make it attractive to different clinical applications . However, the quality of ultrasound images is greatly affected by speckles, a granular pattern formed due to coherent interferences of backscattered echoes from the scatters . The presence of speckle degrades the quality of ultrasound images, and thus affects diagnosis. Thus, speckle reduction has become an important task in many applications with ultrasound imaging.
Different methods have been investigated for speckle reduction. These methods include early methods such as Lee filter , Frost filter , Kuan filter , and recently developed methods such as adaptive filters [6, 7], wavelet transform [8–11], bilateral filters , nonlocal-means  and anisotropic diffusion filters [14–18], etc. In , an adaptive weighted median filter (AWMF) for speckle reduction is proposed. Different from the common median filter, AWMF adjusts weight coefficients and smoothing characteristics based on the local statistics. In , an adaptive speckle suppression filter (ASSF) is developed for speckle reduction in B-scan images. The proposed filter used appropriately shaped and sized local filtering kernels and has better adaptation to local variations. In , a speckle suppression method is presented for ultrasound images. In the presented method, the original image was first logarithmically transformed, and then 2-D wavelet transform was applied to obtain multiscale decomposition for speckle reduction. Besides the methods described above, anisotropic diffusion filters  have been studied deeply in recent years [15–23]. In , an anisotropic diffusion method which integrated with the Smallest Univalue Segment Assimilating Nucleus (SUSAN) edge detector was proposed. The proposed method can provide good performance in both speckle reduction and detail preservation. In , a nonlinear coherent diffusion (NCD) model for logarithmic compressed B-mode ultrasound images was developed. The proposed method can work in real-time. In , Yu et al. proposed the speckle reducing anisotropic diffusion (SRAD) method for ultrasonic images. The method integrated spatially adaptive filter into the diffusion technique, and exploited the instantaneous coefficient of variation for edge detection. Compared with previous method, the method has better performance in both edge preservation and speckle reduction. In addition, the SRAD has been further applied to 3D ultrasound images [19, 20] and also obtained good performance. Recently, another improvement for anisotropic diffusion filter is the work in . In , Tauber et al. improved the robustness of the original SRAD by following the analysis of P-M method with respect to the robust estimation of a piecewise smooth image. Inspired by the success of the work [17, 23], we will further improve the robustness of the DPAD in this paper.
In order to test the performance of the proposed method, we have performed several experiments on ultrasound images. The proposed method was compared with the SRAD algorithm  developed by Yu and the DPAD algorithm developed by Aja-Fernandez .
Experimental results for speckle reduction
Quantitative comparison of speckle reduction methods
Region contrast (RC) values of different speckle reduction methods
The proposed speckle reduction can be applied as a preprocessing step for image segmentation . Because ultrasound image segmentation will be affected by speckles, a good speckle reduction method will enhance the performance of image segmentation. Although we have shown some improvement of segmentation after speckle reduction, the number of cases is not big, thus our future work will focus on measuring the performance of speckle reduction on segmentation using large set of ultrasound images.
Another potential application is the extension of the proposed method to 3-D speckle reduction in ultrasound images. As is well known, 3-D ultrasound imaging is a more challenging area than 2-D ultrasound imaging. Based on our current experiments, we predict the proposed method can also get good results for 3-D ultrasound images.
By integrating the detail preserving anisotropic diffusion developed by Aja-Fernandez and the diffusion coefficient function from , we developed a new anisotropic diffusion filter which can have better performance in edge preservation and speckle reduction. Due to the favorable property of "edge-stopping" diffusion, the proposed method is less sensitive to the number of iterations. Experimental results on real ultrasound images indicated that the proposed method can achieve better performance than both SRAD and DPAD. The proposed method provides a preprocessing method for ultrasound image segmentation.
Previous work on anisotropic diffusion for speckle reduction
where ∇ is the gradient operator, div is the divergence operator, |•| is the magnitude.
is called instantaneous coefficient of variation (ICOV).
The diffusion coefficient function in (9) allows the neighbours with larger gradient magnitude than σ e has no influence on the current pixel. The method can preserve sharper edges than previous formulations.
Inspired by their success [17, 22, 23], in this paper, we aim to improve the robustness of DPAD algorithm and develop a modified algorithm with both advantages from DPAD and Tauber' algorithm . The modified algorithm will preserve sharper edges and be less sensitive to the iteration times.
The proposed robust detail preserving anisotropic diffusion
In this section, we will develop a new scheme to compute the instantaneous coefficient of variation, and then we introduce the new technique which combines the DPAD algorithm and the diffusion coefficient function in equation (9) from . The proposed method will have the advantages of being robust to outliers (the edges of the image) and less sensitive to the number of diffusion iterations.
Computation of instantaneous coefficient of variation with a new scheme
Robust DPAD diffusion function (RDPAD)
In equation (14), we assigns zero weights to the outliers (edges can be seen as outliers in an image) when the instantaneous coefficients of variation is larger than. However, a decreasing small positive weight is assigned to outliers in Aja-Fernandez's algorithm. Therefore, although both of the proposed method and Aja-Fernandez's method perform diffusion similarly when q is small. The behaviour of the two methods will be different when q is large. In the case of large q, the proposed method will stop diffusion while Aja-Fernandez will still perform diffusion. Thus the proposed method can result in sharper edges than Aja-Fernandez's method and the proposed method is also robust to the diffusion iterations.
The proposed anisotropic diffusion can be implemented numerically using the similar way to SRAD, the only difference lies in that the computation of c(q) is different.
The paper is supported by NSFC 61003127, NSF of Hubei Province (NO. 2008CDB345), Educational Commission of Hubei Province (NO.Q20101101) Department of Science and Technology of Hubei Province (NO. D20091102), and Science Foundation of Wuhan University of Science and Technology Project 2008TD04.
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