Whole-Slide Image Analysis of Human Pancreas Samples to Elucidate the Immunopathogenesis of Type 1 Diabetes Using the QuPath Software

Front Mol Biosci. 2021 Jun 11;8:689799. doi: 10.3389/fmolb.2021.689799. eCollection 2021.


Type 1 diabetes is a chronic disease of the pancreas characterized by the loss of insulin-producing beta cells. Access to human pancreas samples for research purposes has been historically limited, restricting pathological analyses to animal models. However, intrinsic differences between animals and humans have made clinical translation very challenging. Recently, human pancreas samples have become available through several biobanks worldwide, and this has opened numerous opportunities for scientific discovery. In addition, the use of new imaging technologies has unraveled many mysteries of the human pancreas not merely in the presence of disease, but also in physiological conditions. Nowadays, multiplex immunofluorescence protocols as well as sophisticated image analysis tools can be employed. Here, we described the use of QuPath-an open-source platform for image analysis-for the investigation of human pancreas samples. We demonstrate that QuPath can be adequately used to analyze whole-slide images with the aim of identifying the islets of Langerhans and define their cellular composition as well as other basic morphological characteristics. In addition, we show that QuPath can identify immune cell populations in the exocrine tissue and islets of Langerhans, accurately localizing and quantifying immune infiltrates in the pancreas. Therefore, we present a tool and analysis pipeline that allows for the accurate characterization of the human pancreas, enabling the study of the anatomical and physiological changes underlying pancreatic diseases such as type 1 diabetes. The standardization and implementation of these analysis tools is of critical importance to understand disease pathogenesis, and may be informative for the design of new therapies aimed at preserving beta cell function and halting the inflammation caused by the immune attack.

Keywords: QuPath; multiplex immunofluorescence; pancreas; pathology; type 1 diabetes; whole-slide image analysis.