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J Thorac Dis. 2018 Mar;10(3):1936-1940. doi: 10.21037/jtd.2018.01.91.

Automatic detection of mycobacterium tuberculosis using artificial intelligence.

Author information

Department of Pathology, Peking University First Hospital, Beijing 100034, China.
Shenzhen Semptian Co., Ltd., Shenzhen 518000, China.



Tuberculosis (TB) is a global issue that seriously endangers public health. Pathology is one of the most important means for diagnosing TB in clinical practice. To confirm TB as the diagnosis, finding specially stained TB bacilli under a microscope is critical. Because of the very small size and number of bacilli, it is a time-consuming and strenuous work even for experienced pathologists, and this strenuosity often leads to low detection rate and false diagnoses. We investigated the clinical efficacy of an artificial intelligence (AI)-assisted detection method for acid-fast stained TB bacillus.


We built a convolutional neural networks (CNN) model, named tuberculosis AI (TB-AI), specifically to recognize TB bacillus. The training set contains 45 samples, including 30 positive cases and 15 negative cases, where bacilli are labeled by human pathologists. Upon training the neural network model, 201 samples (108 positive cases and 93 negative cases) were collected as test set and used to examine TB-AI. We compared the diagnosis of TB-AI to the ground truth result provided by human pathologists, analyzed inconsistencies between AI and human, and adjusted the protocol accordingly. Trained TB-AI were run on the test data twice.


Examined against the double confirmed diagnosis by pathologists both via microscopes and digital slides, TB-AI achieved 97.94% sensitivity and 83.65% specificity.


TB-AI can be a promising support system to detect stained TB bacilli and help make clinical decisions. It holds the potential to relieve the heavy workload of pathologists and decrease chances of missed diagnosis. Samples labeled as positive by TB-AI must be confirmed by pathologists, and those labeled as negative should be reviewed to make sure that the digital slides are qualified.


Mycobacterium tuberculosis (TB); acid-fast stain; artificial intelligence (AI); auxiliary diagnosis

Conflict of interest statement

Conflicts of Interest: The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.

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