Objective assessment of tumor infiltrating lymphocytes as a prognostic marker in melanoma using machine learning algorithms

EBioMedicine. 2022 Aug:82:104143. doi: 10.1016/j.ebiom.2022.104143. Epub 2022 Jul 7.


Background: The prognostic value of tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) assessed by machine learning algorithms in melanoma patients has been previously demonstrated but has not been widely adopted in the clinic. We evaluated the prognostic value of objective automated electronic TILs (eTILs) quantification to define a subset of melanoma patients with a low risk of relapse after surgical treatment.

Methods: We analyzed data for 785 patients from 5 independent cohorts from multiple institutions to validate our previous finding that automated TIL score is prognostic in clinically-localized primary melanoma patients. Using serial tissue sections of the Yale TMA-76 melanoma cohort, both immunofluorescence and Hematoxylin-and-Eosin (H&E) staining were performed to understand the molecular characteristics of each TIL phenotype and their associations with survival outcomes.

Findings: Five previously-described TIL variables were each significantly associated with overall survival (p<0.0001). Assessing the receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curves by comparing the clinical impact of two models suggests that etTILs (electronic total TILs) (AUC: 0.793, specificity: 0.627, sensitivity: 0.938) outperformed eTILs (AUC: 0.77, specificity: 0.51, sensitivity: 0.938). We also found that the specific molecular subtype of cells representing TILs includes predominantly cells that are CD3+ and CD8+ or CD4+ T cells.

Interpretation: eTIL% and etTILs scores are robust prognostic markers in patients with primary melanoma and may identify a subgroup of stage II patients at high risk of recurrence who may benefit from adjuvant therapy. We also show the molecular correlates behind these scores. Our data support the need for prospective testing of this algorithm in a clinical trial.

Funding: This work was also supported by a sponsored research agreements from Navigate Biopharma and NextCure and by grants from the NIH including the Yale SPORE in in Skin Cancer, P50 CA121974, the Yale SPORE in Lung Cancer, P50 CA196530, NYU SPORE in Skin Cancer P50CA225450 and the Yale Cancer Center Support Grant, P30CA016359.

Keywords: Digital image analysis; Early-stage melanoma; Machine learning cell segmentation algorithm; Prognostic marker; Tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs).

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Humans
  • Lymphocytes, Tumor-Infiltrating / pathology
  • Machine Learning
  • Melanoma* / pathology
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / pathology
  • Prognosis
  • Prospective Studies
  • Skin Neoplasms* / diagnosis
  • Skin Neoplasms* / pathology