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JCO Clin Cancer Inform. 2019 Apr;3:1-7. doi: 10.1200/CCI.18.00157.

HistoQC: An Open-Source Quality Control Tool for Digital Pathology Slides.

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Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH.
University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, Cleveland, OH.
University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, Philadelphia, PA.
Louis Stokes Cleveland Veterans Administration Medical Center, Cleveland, OH.



Digital pathology (DP), referring to the digitization of tissue slides, is beginning to change the landscape of clinical diagnostic workflows and has engendered active research within the area of computational pathology. One of the challenges in DP is the presence of artefacts and batch effects, unintentionally introduced during both routine slide preparation (eg, staining, tissue folding) and digitization (eg, blurriness, variations in contrast and hue). Manual review of glass and digital slides is laborious, qualitative, and subject to intra- and inter-reader variability. Therefore, there is a critical need for a reproducible automated approach of precisely localizing artefacts to identify slides that need to be reproduced or regions that should be avoided during computational analysis.


Here we present HistoQC, a tool for rapidly performing quality control to not only identify and delineate artefacts but also discover cohort-level outliers (eg, slides stained darker or lighter than others in the cohort). This open-source tool employs a combination of image metrics (eg, color histograms, brightness, contrast), features (eg, edge detectors), and supervised classifiers (eg, pen detection) to identify artefact-free regions on digitized slides. These regions and metrics are presented to the user via an interactive graphical user interface, facilitating artefact detection through real-time visualization and filtering. These same metrics afford users the opportunity to explicitly define acceptable tolerances for their workflows.


The output of HistoQC on 450 slides from The Cancer Genome Atlas was reviewed by two pathologists and found to be suitable for computational analysis more than 95% of the time.


These results suggest that HistoQC could provide an automated, quantifiable, quality control process for identifying artefacts and measuring slide quality, in turn helping to improve both the repeatability and robustness of DP workflows.

[Available on 2020-04-01]
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