Nuclear segmentation is an important step for profiling aberrant regions of histology sections. If nuclear segmentation can be resolved, then new biomarkers of nuclear phenotypes and their organization can be predicted for the application of precision medicine. However, segmentation is a complex problem as a result of variations in nuclear geometry (e.g., size, shape), nuclear type (e.g., epithelial, fibroblast), nuclear phenotypes (e.g., vesicular, aneuploidy), and overlapping nuclei. The problem is further complicated as a result of variations in sample preparation (e.g., fixation, staining). Our hypothesis is that (i) deep learning techniques can learn complex phenotypic signatures that rise in tumor sections, and (ii) fusion of different representations (e.g., regions, boundaries) contributes to improved nuclear segmentation.
We have demonstrated that training of deep encoder-decoder convolutional networks overcomes complexities associated with multiple nuclear phenotypes, where we evaluate alternative architecture of deep learning for an improved performance against the simplicity of the design. In addition, improved nuclear segmentation is achieved by color decomposition and combining region- and boundary-based features through a fusion network. The trained models have been evaluated against approximately 19,000 manually annotated nuclei, and object-level Precision, Recall, F1-score and Standard Error are reported with the best F1-score being 0.91. Raw training images, annotated images, processed images, and source codes are released as a part of the Additional file 1.
There are two intrinsic barriers in nuclear segmentation to H&E stained images, which correspond to the diversity of nuclear phenotypes and perceptual boundaries between adjacent cells. We demonstrate that (i) the encoder-decoder architecture can learn complex phenotypes that include the vesicular type; (ii) delineation of overlapping nuclei is enhanced by fusion of region- and edge-based networks; (iii) fusion of ENets produces an improved result over the fusion of UNets; and (iv) fusion of networks is better than multitask learning. We suggest that our protocol enables processing a large cohort of whole slide images for applications in precision medicine.