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In EBioMedicine

BACKGROUND : Tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) are clinically significant in triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC). Although a standardized methodology for visual TILs assessment (VTA) exists, it has several inherent limitations. We established a deep learning-based computational TIL assessment (CTA) method broadly following VTA guideline and compared it with VTA for TNBC to determine the prognostic value of the CTA and a reasonable CTA workflow for clinical practice.

METHODS : We trained three deep neural networks for nuclei segmentation, nuclei classification and necrosis classification to establish a CTA workflow. The automatic TIL (aTIL) score generated was compared with manual TIL (mTIL) scores provided by three pathologists in an Asian (n = 184) and a Caucasian (n = 117) TNBC cohort to evaluate scoring concordance and prognostic value.

FINDINGS : The intraclass correlations (ICCs) between aTILs and mTILs varied from 0.40 to 0.70 in two cohorts. Multivariate Cox proportional hazards analysis revealed that the aTIL score was associated with disease free survival (DFS) in both cohorts, as either a continuous [hazard ratio (HR)=0.96, 95% CI 0.94-0.99] or dichotomous variable (HR=0.29, 95% CI 0.12-0.72). A higher C-index was observed in a composite mTIL/aTIL three-tier stratification model than in the dichotomous model, using either mTILs or aTILs alone.

INTERPRETATION : The current study provides a useful tool for stromal TIL assessment and prognosis evaluation for patients with TNBC. A workflow integrating both VTA and CTA may aid pathologists in performing risk management and decision-making tasks.

Sun Peng, He Jiehua, Chao Xue, Chen Keming, Xu Yuanyuan, Huang Qitao, Yun Jingping, Li Mei, Luo Rongzhen, Kuang Jinbo, Wang Huajia, Li Haosen, Hui Hui, Xu Shuoyu


Deep learning, Prognosis, Triple-negative breast cancer, Tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte