Systemic sclerosis (SSc) is a rare autoimmune, systemic disease with prominent fibrosis of skin and internal organs. Early diagnosis of the disease is crucial for designing effective therapy and management plans. Machine learning algorithms, especially deep learning, have been found to be greatly useful in biology, medicine, healthcare, and biomedical applications, in the areas of medical image processing and speech recognition. However, the need for a large training data set and the requirement for a graphics processing unit (GPU) have hindered the wide application of machine learning algorithms as a diagnostic tool in resource-constrained environments (e.g., clinics). In this paper, we propose a novel mobile deep learning network for the characterization of SSc skin. The proposed network architecture consists of the UNet, a dense connectivity convolutional neural network (CNN) with added classifier layers that when combined with limited training data, yields better image segmentation and more accurate classification, and a mobile training module. In addition, to improve the computational efficiency and diagnostic accuracy, the highly efficient training model called “MobileNetV2,” which is designed for mobile and embedded applications, was used to train the network. The proposed network was implemented using a standard laptop (2.5 GHz Intel Core i7). After fine tuning, our results showed the proposed network reached 100% accuracy on the training image set, 96.8% accuracy on the validation image set, and 95.2% on the testing image set. The training time was less than 5 hours. We also analyzed the same normal vs SSc skin image sets using the CNN using the same laptop. The CNN reached 100% accuracy on the training image set, 87.7% accuracy on the validation image set, and 82.9% on the testing image set. Additionally, it took more than 14 hours to train the CNN architecture. We also utilized the MobileNetV2 model to analyze an additional dataset of images and classified them as normal, early (mid and moderate) SSc or late (severe) SSc skin images. The network reached 100% accuracy on the training image set, 97.2% on the validation set, and 94.8% on the testing image set. Using the same normal, early and late phase SSc skin images, the CNN reached 100% accuracy on the training image set, 87.7% accuracy on the validation image set, and 82.9% on the testing image set. These results indicated that the MobileNetV2 architecture is more accurate and efficient compared to the CNN to classify normal, early and late phase SSc skin images. Our preliminary study, intended to show the efficacy of the proposed network architecture, holds promise in the characterization of SSc. We believe that the proposed network architecture could easily be implemented in a clinical setting, providing a simple, inexpensive, and accurate screening tool for SSc.
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