Deep learning identification of stiffness markers in breast cancer

Biomaterials. 2022 Jun:285:121540. doi: 10.1016/j.biomaterials.2022.121540. Epub 2022 Apr 27.


While essential to our understanding of solid tumor progression, the study of cell and tissue mechanics has yet to find traction in the clinic. Determining tissue stiffness, a mechanical property known to promote a malignant phenotype in vitro and in vivo, is not part of the standard algorithm for the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. Instead, clinicians routinely use mammograms to identify malignant lesions and radiographically dense breast tissue is associated with an increased risk of developing cancer. Whether breast density is related to tumor tissue stiffness, and what cellular and non-cellular components of the tumor contribute the most to its stiffness are not well understood. Through training of a deep learning network and mechanical measurements of fresh patient tissue, we create a bridge in understanding between clinical and mechanical markers. The automatic identification of cellular and extracellular features from hematoxylin and eosin (H&E)-stained slides reveals that global and local breast tissue stiffness best correlate with the percentage of straight collagen. Importantly, the percentage of dense breast tissue does not directly correlate with tissue stiffness or straight collagen content.

Keywords: Breast cancer; Breast density; Deep learning; Mechanobiology; Stiffness.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Breast Density
  • Breast Neoplasms* / pathology
  • Collagen
  • Deep Learning*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mammography


  • Collagen