Slimmable transformer with hybrid axial-attention for medical image segmentation

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Department of Biological Sciences


The transformer architecture has achieved remarkable success in medical image analysis owing to its powerful capability for capturing long-range dependencies. However, due to the lack of intrinsic inductive bias in modeling visual structural information, the transformer generally requires a large-scale pre-training schedule, limiting the clinical applications over expensive small-scale medical data. To this end, we propose a slimmable transformer to explore intrinsic inductive bias via position information for medical image segmentation. Specifically, we empirically investigate how different position encoding strategies affect the prediction quality of the region of interest (ROI) and observe that ROIs are sensitive to different position encoding strategies. Motivated by this, we present a novel Hybrid Axial-Attention (HAA) that can be equipped with pixel-level spatial structure and relative position information as inductive bias. Moreover, we introduce a gating mechanism to achieve efficient feature selection and further improve the representation quality over small-scale datasets. Experiments on LGG and COVID-19 datasets prove the superiority of our method over the baseline and previous works. Internal workflow visualization with interpretability is conducted to validate our success better; the proposed slimmable transformer has the potential to be further developed into a visual software tool for improving computer-aided lesion diagnosis and treatment planning.

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Computers in Biology and Medicine