Computational discovery of tissue morphology biomarkers in very long-term survivors with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma
Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is one of the deadliest forms of cancer, with an average 5-year survival rate of only 8%. Within PDAC patients, however, there is a small subset of patients who survive >10 years. Deciphering underlying reasons behind prolonged survival could potentially provide new opportunities to treat PDAC; however, no genomic, transcriptomic, proteomic, or clinical signatures have been found to robustly separate this subset of patients. Digital pathology, in combination with machine learning, provides an opportunity to computationally search for tissue morphology patterns associated with disease outcomes. Here, we developed a computational framework to analyze whole-slide images (WSI) of PDAC patient tissue and identify tissue-morphology signatures for very long term surviving patients. Our results indicate that less tissue morphology heterogeneity is significantly linked to better patient survival and that the extra-tumoral space encodes prognostic information for survival. Based on information from morphological heterogeneity in the tumor and its adjacent area, we established a machine learning model with an AUC of 0.94. Our analysis workflow highlighted a quantitative visual-based tissue phenotype analysis that also allows direct interaction with pathology. This study demonstrates a pathway to accelerate the discovery of undetermined tissue morphology associated with pathogenesis states and prognosis and diagnosis of patients by utilizing new computational approaches.
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