A.I. creates ‘maps’ of immune system fighting cancer

Using artificial intelligence and deep learning on very high-resolution images of tumor tissue, researchers produced maps of how the immune system fights cancer.

By combining data on pathology images of 13 types of cancer and correlating that with clinical and genomic data, the team of researchers were able to identify tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs), called TIL maps, which will enable cancer specialists to generate tumor-immune information from routinely gathered pathology slides.

Published in Cell Reports, the paper details how TIL maps are related to the molecular characterization of tumors and patient survival. The method may provide a foundation on how to better diagnose and create a treatment plan for cancers that are responsive to immune-based anti-cancer therapy, such as melanoma, lung, bladder, and certain types of colon cancer.

The gold standard for cancer diagnosis remains the pathology report from a biopsied tumor tissue. Diagnosis plays a leading role in a patient’s treatment. In certain situations and with forms of cancer treated with immune-based therapies, pathologists are also tasked with making observations on the immunologic features of the tumor tissue to determine which patients are most likely to benefit from these therapies. Immunotherapies unleash TILs to destroy cancer cells.

“This paper demonstrates that we can now use deep learning methods such as artificial intelligence to extract and classify patterns of immune cells in ubiquitously obtained pathology studies, and to relate immune cell patterns to the many other types of cancer patient molecular and clinical data,” says Joel Saltz, chair of biomedical informatics at Stony Brook University and lead author of the paper.

In the study, the researchers applied machine learning to digitized pathology images to characterize patterns of immune infiltration present in 4,759 TCGA patients and within 13 cancer types processing more than 5,000 digital images from the cancer types to create a “computational stain” for each. With these, they created TIL maps as a potential new guide to diagnosis and treatment planning.

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The work stems from the efforts of The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) project, a decade-long effort of the National Cancer Institute and the National Human Genome Research Institute in collaboration with the cancer research community worldwide. The TIL map study is part of a cohort of 27 manuscripts in Cell Press communicating results by the TCGA PanCancer Atlas Initiative, which has compared and contrasted molecular features of all TCGA tumor samples from more than 10,000 cases comprising 33 different forms of cancer.

The research includes researchers from Stony Brook University, the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Emory University, and the Institute for Systems Biology.

Partial funding for the work came from the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, the Cancer Research Institute, and the National Science Foundation.

Source: Stony Brook University