A cell’s phenotype is the culmination of several cellular processes through a complex network of molecular interactions that ultimately result in a unique morphological signature. Visual cell phenotyping is the characterization and quantification of these observable cellular traits in images. Recently, cellular phenotyping has undergone a massive overhaul in terms of scale, resolution, and throughput, which is attributable to advances across electronic, optical, and chemical technologies for imaging cells. Coupled with the rapid acceleration of deep learning–based computational tools, these advances have opened up new avenues for innovation across a wide variety of high-throughput cell biology applications. Here, we review applications wherein deep learning is powering the recognition, profiling, and prediction of visual phenotypes to answer important biological questions. As the complexity and scale of imaging assays increase, deep learning offers computational solutions to elucidate the details of previously unexplored cellular phenotypes.
Identifying nuclei is often a critical first step in analyzing microscopy images of cells and classical image processing algorithms are most commonly used for this task. Recent developments in deep learning can yield superior accuracy, but typical evaluation metrics for nucleus segmentation do not satisfactorily capture error modes that are relevant in cellular images. We present an evaluation framework to measure accuracy, types of errors, and computational efficiency; and use it to compare deep learning strategies and classical approaches. We publicly release a set of 23,165 manually annotated nuclei and source code to reproduce experiments and run the proposed evaluation methodology. Our evaluation framework shows that deep learning improves accuracy and can reduce the number of biologically relevant errors by half. © 2019 The Authors. Cytometry Part A published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. on behalf of International Society for Advancement of Cytometry.
Segmenting the nuclei of cells in microscopy images is often the first step in the quantitative analysis of imaging data for biological and biomedical applications. Many bioimage analysis tools can segment nuclei in images but need to be selected and configured for every experiment. The 2018 Data Science Bowl attracted 3,891 teams worldwide to make the first attempt to build a segmentation method that could be applied to any two-dimensional light microscopy image of stained nuclei across experiments, with no human interaction. Top participants in the challenge succeeded in this task, developing deep-learning-based models that identified cell nuclei across many image types and experimental conditions without the need to manually adjust segmentation parameters. This represents an important step toward configuration-free bioimage analysis software tools.
We study the problem of learning representations for single cells in microscopy images to discover biological relationships between their experimental conditions. Many new applications in drug discovery and functional genomics require capturing the morphology of individual cells as comprehensively as possible. Deep convolutional neural networks (CNNs) can learn powerful visual representations, but require ground truth for training; this is rarely available in biomedical profiling experiments. While we do not know which experimental treatments produce cells that look alike, we do know that cells exposed to the same experimental treatment should generally look similar. Thus, we explore training CNNs using a weakly supervised approach that uses this information for feature learning. In addition, the training stage is regularized to control for unwanted variations using mixup or RNNs. We conduct experiments on two different datasets; the proposed approach yields single-cell embeddings that are more accurate than the widely adopted classical features, and are competitive with previously proposed transfer learning approaches.
A dramatic shift has occurred in how biologists use microscopy images. Whether experiments are small-scale or high-throughput, automatically quantifying biological properties in images is now widespread. We see yet another revolution under way: a transition towards using automated image analysis to not only identify phenotypes a biologist specifically seeks to measure ('screening') but also as an unbiased and sensitive tool to capture a wide variety of subtle features of cell (or organism) state ('profiling'). Mapping similarities among samples using image-based (morphological) profiling has tremendous potential to transform drug discovery, functional genomics, and basic biological research. Applications include target identification, lead hopping, library enrichment, functionally annotating genes/alleles, and identifying small molecule modulators of gene activity and disease-specific phenotypes.