Today’s MiWORD of the day is… Artifact!

When the ancient Egyptians built the golden Mask of Tutankhamun or carved a simple message into the now infamous Rosetta Stone, they probably didn’t know that we’d be holding onto them centuries later, considering them incredible reflections of Egyptian history.

Both of these are among the most famous artifacts existing today in museums. An artifact is a man-made object that’s considered to be of high historical significance. However, in radiology, an artifact is a lot less desirable – it refers to parts of an image that appear differently and inaccurately reflect the body structures they are taken of.

Artifacts in radiography can happen to any image. For instance, they can occur from improper handling of machines used to take medical scans, patient movement during imaging, external objects (i.e. jewelry, buttons) and other unwanted occurrences.

Why are artifacts so important? They can lead to misdiagnoses that could be detrimental to a patient. Consider a hypothetical scenario where a patient goes in for imaging for a tumor. The radiologist identifies the tumor as benign, but in reality, due to mishandling of a machine, an image artifact exists on the image that hides the fact that it is in fact malignant. The outcome would be catastrophic in this case!

Of course, this kind of diagnosis is highly unlikely (especially with modern day medical imaging) and there a ton of factors at play with diagnosis. A real diagnosis, especially nowadays, would not be so simple (or we would be wrong not to severely lament the state of medicine today). However, even if artifacts don’t cause a misdiagnosis, they can pose obstacles to both radiologists and researchers working with these images.

One such area of research is the application of machine learning into the field of medical imaging. Whether we’re using convolutional neural networks or vision transformers, all of these machine learning models rely on images produced in some facility. The quality of these images, including the presence and frequency of artifacts, can affect the outcome of any experiments conducted with them. For instance, imagine you build a machine learning model to classify between two different types of ultrasound scans. The performance of the model is certainly a main factor – but the concern that the model might be focusing on artifacts within the image rather than structures of interest would also be a huge consideration.

In any case, the presence of artifacts (whether in medical imaging or in historical museums) certainly gives us a lot more to think about!

Now onto the fun part, using artifact in a sentence by the end of the day:

Serious: My convolutional neural network could possibly be focusing on artifacts resulting from machine handling in the ultrasound images during classification rather than actual body structures of interest. That would be terrible.

Less serious: The Rosetta Stone – a phenomenal, historically significant, hugely investigated Egyptian artifact that happened to be a slab of stone on which I have no idea what was inscribed.

I’ll see you in the blogosphere!

Jeffrey Huang

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