Continuous measurement of breast tumour hormone receptor expression: a comparison of two computational pathology platforms

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Abstract

Aims

Computational pathology platforms incorporate digital microscopy with sophisticated image analysis to permit rapid, continuous measurement of protein expression. We compared two computational pathology platforms on their measurement of breast tumour oestrogen receptor (ER) and progesterone receptor (PR) expression.

Methods

Breast tumour microarrays from the Nurses' Health Study were stained for ER (n=592) and PR (n=187). One expert pathologist scored cases as positive if ≥1% of tumour nuclei exhibited stain. ER and PR were then measured with the Definiens Tissue Studio (automated) and Aperio Digital Pathology (user-supervised) platforms. Platform-specific measurements were compared using boxplots, scatter plots and correlation statistics. Classification of ER and PR positivity by platform-specific measurements was evaluated with areas under receiver operating characteristic curves (AUC) from univariable logistic regression models, using expert pathologist classification as the standard.

Results

Both platforms showed considerable overlap in continuous measurements of ER and PR between positive and negative groups classified by expert pathologist. Platform-specific measurements were strongly and positively correlated with one another (r≥0.77). The user-supervised Aperio workflow performed slightly better than the automated Definiens workflow at classifying ER positivity (AUCAperio=0.97; AUCDefiniens=0.90; difference=0.07, 95% CI 0.05 to 0.09) and PR positivity (AUCAperio=0.94; AUCDefiniens=0.87; difference=0.07, 95% CI 0.03 to 0.12).

Conclusions

Paired hormone receptor expression measurements from two different computational pathology platforms agreed well with one another. The user-supervised workflow yielded better classification accuracy than the automated workflow. Appropriately validated computational pathology algorithms enrich molecular epidemiology studies with continuous protein expression data and may accelerate tumour biomarker discovery.

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