Detection of Necrosis in Digitised Whole-Slide Images for Better Grading of Canine Soft-Tissue Sarcomas Using Machine-Learning

Vet Sci. 2023 Jan 8;10(1):45. doi: 10.3390/vetsci10010045.


The definitive diagnosis of canine soft-tissue sarcomas (STSs) is based on histological assessment of formalin-fixed tissues. Assessment of parameters, such as degree of differentiation, necrosis score and mitotic score, give rise to a final tumour grade, which is important in determining prognosis and subsequent treatment modalities. However, grading discrepancies are reported to occur in human and canine STSs, which can result in complications regarding treatment plans. The introduction of digital pathology has the potential to help improve STS grading via automated determination of the presence and extent of necrosis. The detected necrotic regions can be factored in the grading scheme or excluded before analysing the remaining tissue. Here we describe a method to detect tumour necrosis in histopathological whole-slide images (WSIs) of STSs using machine learning. Annotated areas of necrosis were extracted from WSIs and the patches containing necrotic tissue fed into a pre-trained DenseNet161 convolutional neural network (CNN) for training, testing and validation. The proposed CNN architecture reported favourable results, with an overall validation accuracy of 92.7% for necrosis detection which represents the number of correctly classified data instances over the total number of data instances. The proposed method, when vigorously validated represents a promising tool to assist pathologists in evaluating necrosis in canine STS tumours, by increasing efficiency, accuracy and reducing inter-rater variation.

Keywords: canine; digital pathology; grading; machine learning; necrosis detection; soft-tissue sarcoma.

Grant support

The study was funded by the Doctoral College, University of Surrey (UK) (UoS - DTC PhD studentship awarded to Ambra Morisi), National Physical Laboratory (UK) and Zoetis through the vHive initiative.