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Computer vision approach to classification of circulating tumor cells




Hopkins, David, author
Kirby, Michael, advisor
Peterson, Chris, committee member
Givens, Geof, committee member

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Current research into the detection and characterization of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) in the bloodstream can be used to assess the threat to a potential cancer victim. We have determined specific goals to further the understanding of these cells. 1) Full automation of an algorithm to overcome the current methods challenges of being labor-intensive and time-consuming, 2) Detection of single CTC cells amongst several million white blood cells given digital imagery of a panel of blood, and 3) Objective classification of white blood cells, CTCs, and potential sub-types. We demonstrate in this paper the developed theory, code and implementation necessary for addressing these goals using mathematics and computer vision techniques. These include: 1) Formation of a completely data-driven methodology, and 2) Use of Bag of Features computer vision technique coupled with custom-built pixel-centric feature descriptors, 3) Use of clustering techniques such as K-means and Hierarchical clustering as a robust classification method to glean insights into cell characteristics. To objectively determine the adequacy of our approach, we test our algorithm against three benchmarks: sensitivity/specificity in classification, nontrivial event detection, and rotational invariance. The algorithm performed well with the first two, and we provide possible modifications to improve performance on the third. The results of the sensitivity and specificity benchmark are important. The unfiltered data we used to test our algorithm were images of blood panels containing 44,914 WBCs and 39 CTCs. The algorithm classified 67.5 percent of CTCs into an outlier cluster containing only 300 cells. A simple modification brought the classification rate up to 80 percent of total CTCs. This modification brings the cluster count to only 400 cells. This is a significant reduction in cells a pathologist would sort through as it is only .9 percent of the total data.


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bag of features
cell classification
circulating tumor cells
computer vision
feature descriptor


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