Fractals in pathology

J Pathol. 1997 May;182(1):1-8. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1096-9896(199705)182:1<1::AID-PATH808>3.0.CO;2-B.


Many natural objects, including most objects studied in pathology, have complex structural characteristics and the complexity of their structures, for example the degree of branching of vessels or the irregularity of a tumour boundary, remains at a constant level over a wide range of magnifications. These structures also have patterns that repeat themselves at different magnifications, a property known as scaling self-similarity. This has important implications for measurement of parameters such as length and area, since Euclidean measurements of these may be invalid. The fractal system of geometry overcomes the limitations of the Euclidean geometry for such objects and measurement of the fractal dimension gives an index of their space-filling properties. The fractal dimension may be measured using image analysis systems and the box-counting, divider (perimeter-stepping) and pixel dilation methods have all been described in the published literature. Fractal analysis has found applications in the detection of coding of coding regions in DNA and measurement of the space-filling properties of tumours, blood vessels and neurones. Fractal concepts have also been usefully incorporated into models of biological processes, including epithelial cell growth, blood vessel growth, periodontal disease and viral infections.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bone Diseases / pathology
  • Fractals*
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Vascular Diseases / pathology