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BMC Med Imaging. 2013 Mar 13;13:9. doi: 10.1186/1471-2342-13-9.

Histological image classification using biologically interpretable shape-based features.

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Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA, USA.



Automatic cancer diagnostic systems based on histological image classification are important for improving therapeutic decisions. Previous studies propose textural and morphological features for such systems. These features capture patterns in histological images that are useful for both cancer grading and subtyping. However, because many of these features lack a clear biological interpretation, pathologists may be reluctant to adopt these features for clinical diagnosis.


We examine the utility of biologically interpretable shape-based features for classification of histological renal tumor images. Using Fourier shape descriptors, we extract shape-based features that capture the distribution of stain-enhanced cellular and tissue structures in each image and evaluate these features using a multi-class prediction model. We compare the predictive performance of the shape-based diagnostic model to that of traditional models, i.e., using textural, morphological and topological features.


The shape-based model, with an average accuracy of 77%, outperforms or complements traditional models. We identify the most informative shapes for each renal tumor subtype from the top-selected features. Results suggest that these shapes are not only accurate diagnostic features, but also correlate with known biological characteristics of renal tumors.


Shape-based analysis of histological renal tumor images accurately classifies disease subtypes and reveals biologically insightful discriminatory features. This method for shape-based analysis can be extended to other histological datasets to aid pathologists in diagnostic and therapeutic decisions.

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