Background: Tunneling nanotubes (TNTs) are cellular structures connecting cell membranes and mediating intercellular communication. TNTs are manually identified and counted by a trained investigator; however, this process is time-intensive. We therefore sought to develop an automated approach for quantitative analysis of TNTs. Methods: We used a convolutional neural network (U-Net) deep learning model to segment phase contrast microscopy images of both cancer and non-cancer cells. Our method was composed of preprocessing and model development. We developed a new preprocessing method to label TNTs on a pixel-wise basis. Two sequential models were employed to detect TNTs. First, we identified the regions of images with TNTs by implementing a classification algorithm. Second, we fed parts of the image classified as TNT-containing into a modified U-Net model to estimate TNTs on a pixel-wise basis. Results: The algorithm detected 49.9% of human expert-identified TNTs, counted TNTs, and calculated the number of TNTs per cell, or TNT-to-cell ratio (TCR); it detected TNTs that were not originally detected by the experts. The model had 0.41 precision, 0.26 recall, and 0.32 f-1 score on a test dataset. The predicted and true TCRs were not significantly different across the training and test datasets (p = 0.78). Conclusions: Our automated approach labeled and detected TNTs and cells imaged in culture, resulting in comparable TCRs to those determined by human experts. Future studies will aim to improve on the accuracy, precision, and recall of the algorithm.
American Association for Cancer Research
artificial intelligence, automated cell counting, biomarker, cancer, cells, deep learning, machine learning, microscopy, TNT, tunneling nanotubes
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Information Systems and Technology
Yasin Ceran, Hamza Ergüder, Katherine Ladner, Sophie Korenfeld, Karina Deniz, Sanyukta Padmanabhan, Phillip Wong, Murat Baday, Thomas Pengo, Emil Lou, and Chirag B. Patel. "TNTdetect.AI: A Deep Learning Model for Automated Detection and Counting of Tunneling Nanotubes in Microscopy Images" Cancers (2022). https://doi.org/10.3390/cancers14194958