Statistical performance of image cytometry for DNA, lipids, cytokeratin, & CD45 in a model system for circulation tumor cell detection

Cytometry A. 2017 Jul;91(7):662-674. doi: 10.1002/cyto.a.23144. Epub 2017 Jun 13.


Detection of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) in a blood sample is limited by the sensitivity and specificity of the biomarker panel used to identify CTCs over other blood cells. In this work, we present Bayesian theory that shows how test sensitivity and specificity set the rarity of cell that a test can detect. We perform our calculation of sensitivity and specificity on our image cytometry biomarker panel by testing on pure disease positive (D+ ) populations (MCF7 cells) and pure disease negative populations (D- ) (leukocytes). In this system, we performed multi-channel confocal fluorescence microscopy to image biomarkers of DNA, lipids, CD45, and Cytokeratin. Using custom software, we segmented our confocal images into regions of interest consisting of individual cells and computed the image metrics of total signal, second spatial moment, spatial frequency second moment, and the product of the spatial-spatial frequency moments. We present our analysis of these 16 features. The best performing of the 16 features produced an average separation of three standard deviations between D+ and D- and an average detectable rarity of ∼1 in 200. We performed multivariable regression and feature selection to combine multiple features for increased performance and showed an average separation of seven standard deviations between the D+ and D- populations making our average detectable rarity of ∼1 in 480. Histograms and receiver operating characteristics (ROC) curves for these features and regressions are presented. We conclude that simple regression analysis holds promise to further improve the separation of rare cells in cytometry applications. © 2017 International Society for Advancement of Cytometry.

Keywords: biomarkers; circulating tumor cells; false positive rate; image cytometry; image processing; lipids; receiver operating characteristics; sensitivity; spatial features; specificity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Antigens, Neoplasm / metabolism
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / analysis
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Separation / methods
  • DNA / analysis*
  • Humans
  • Image Cytometry / methods
  • Keratins / metabolism*
  • Leukocyte Common Antigens / metabolism*
  • Lipid Metabolism*
  • Lipids
  • Neoplastic Cells, Circulating / pathology*


  • Antigens, Neoplasm
  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Lipids
  • Keratins
  • DNA
  • Leukocyte Common Antigens
  • PTPRC protein, human