Optimising brain age estimation through transfer learning: A suite of pre-trained foundation models for improved performance and generalisability in a clinical setting

David A. Wood, Matthew Townend, Emily Guilhem, Sina Kafiabadi, Ahmed Hammam, Yiran Wei, Ayisha Al Busaidi, Asif Mazumder, Peter Sasieni, Gareth J. Barker, Sebastien Ourselin, James H. Cole, Thomas C. Booth*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Abstract

Estimated age from brain MRI data has emerged as a promising biomarker of neurological health. However, the absence of large, diverse, and clinically representative training datasets, along with the complexity of managing heterogeneous MRI data, presents significant barriers to the development of accurate and generalisable models appropriate for clinical use. Here, we present a deep learning framework trained on routine clinical data (N up to 18,890, age range 18–96 years). We trained five separate models for accurate brain age prediction (all with mean absolute error ≤4.0 years, R2 ≥.86) across five different MRI sequences (T2-weighted, T2-FLAIR, T1-weighted, diffusion-weighted, and gradient-recalled echo T2*-weighted). Our trained models offer dual functionality. First, they have the potential to be directly employed on clinical data. Second, they can be used as foundation models for further refinement to accommodate a range of other MRI sequences (and therefore a range of clinical scenarios which employ such sequences). This adaptation process, enabled by transfer learning, proved effective in our study across a range of MRI sequences and scan orientations, including those which differed considerably from the original training datasets. Crucially, our findings suggest that this approach remains viable even with limited data availability (as low as N = 25 for fine-tuning), thus broadening the application of brain age estimation to more diverse clinical contexts and patient populations. By making these models publicly available, we aim to provide the scientific community with a versatile toolkit, promoting further research in brain age prediction and related areas.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere26625
JournalHuman Brain Mapping
Volume45
Issue number4
Early online date4 Mar 2024
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 4 Mar 2024

Keywords

  • brain age
  • deep learning
  • foundation model
  • MRI
  • transfer learning

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