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PLoS One. 2011;6(12):e28048. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0028048. Epub 2011 Dec 2.

Automatic tumor-stroma separation in fluorescence TMAs enables the quantitative high-throughput analysis of multiple cancer biomarkers.

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Institute of Medical Biometry and Informatics, University Hospital Heidelberg, Heidelberg, Germany.


The upcoming quantification and automation in biomarker based histological tumor evaluation will require computational methods capable of automatically identifying tumor areas and differentiating them from the stroma. As no single generally applicable tumor biomarker is available, pathology routinely uses morphological criteria as a spatial reference system. We here present and evaluate a method capable of performing the classification in immunofluorescence histological slides solely using a DAPI background stain. Due to the restriction to a single color channel this is inherently challenging. We formed cell graphs based on the topological distribution of the tissue cell nuclei and extracted the corresponding graph features. By using topological, morphological and intensity based features we could systematically quantify and compare the discrimination capability individual features contribute to the overall algorithm. We here show that when classifying fluorescence tissue slides in the DAPI channel, morphological and intensity based features clearly outpace topological ones which have been used exclusively in related previous approaches. We assembled the 15 best features to train a support vector machine based on Keratin stained tumor areas. On a test set of TMAs with 210 cores of triple negative breast cancers our classifier was able to distinguish between tumor and stroma tissue with a total overall accuracy of 88%. Our method yields first results on the discrimination capability of features groups which is essential for an automated tumor diagnostics. Also, it provides an objective spatial reference system for the multiplex analysis of biomarkers in fluorescence immunohistochemistry.

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