PMID: 30918435 / PMCID: PMC6432648
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.