The classification and registration of incomplete multi-modal medical images, such as multi-sequence MRI with missing sequences, can sometimes be improved by replacing the missing modalities with synthetic data. This may seem counter-intuitive: synthetic data is derived from data that is already available, so it does not add new information. Why can it still improve performance? In this paper we discuss possible explanations. If the synthesis model is more flexible than the classifier, the synthesis model can provide features that the classifier could not have extracted from the original data. In addition, using synthetic information to complete incomplete samples increases the size of the training set.
We present experiments with two classifiers, linear support vector machines (SVMs) and random forests, together with two synthesis methods that can replace missing data in an image classification problem: neural networks and restricted Boltzmann machines (RBMs). We used data from the BRATS 2013 brain tumor segmentation challenge, which includes multi-modal MRI scans with T1, T1 post-contrast, T2 and FLAIR sequences. The linear SVMs appear to benefit from the complex transformations offered by the synthesis models, whereas the random forests mostly benefit from having more training data. Training on the hidden representation from the RBM brought the accuracy of the linear SVMs close to that of random forests.