M. Pytlarz, K. Wojnicki, P. Pilanc, B. Kaminska, A. Crimi

Gliomas are primary brain tumors that arise from neural stem cells, or glial precursors. Diagnosis of glioma is based on histological evaluation of pathological cell features and molecular markers. Gliomas are infiltrated by myeloid cells that accumulate preferentially in malignant tumors, and their abundance inversely correlates with survival, which is of interest for cancer immunotherapies. To avoid time-consuming and laborious manual examination of images, a deep learning approach for automatic multiclass classification of tumor grades was proposed. As an alternative way of investigating characteristics of brain tumor grades, we implemented a protocol for learning, discovering, and quantifying tumor microenvironment elements on our glioma dataset. Using only single-stained biopsies we derived characteristic differentiating tumor microenvironment phenotypic neighborhoods. The study was complicated by the small size of the available human leukocyte antigen stained on glioma tissue microarray dataset — 206 images of 5 classes — as well as imbalanced data distribution. This challenge was addressed by image augmentation for underrepresented classes. In practice, we considered two scenarios, a whole slide supervised learning classification, and an unsupervised cell-to-cell analysis looking for patterns of the microenvironment. In the supervised learning investigation, we evaluated 6 distinct model architectures. Experiments revealed that a DenseNet121 architecture surpasses the baseline’s accuracy by a significant margin of 9% for the test set, achieving a score of 69%, increasing accuracy in discerning challenging WHO grade 2 and 3 cases. All experiments have been carried out in a cross-validation manner. The tumor microenvironment analysis suggested an important role for myeloid cells and their accumulation in the context of characterizing glioma grades. Those promising approaches can be used as an additional diagnostic tool to improve assessment during intraoperative examination or subtyping tissues for treatment selection, potentially easing the workflow of pathologists and oncologists.