a methodology to ensure and improve accuracy of Ki67 labelling index estimation by automated digital image analysis in breast cancer tissue

A methodology to ensure and improve accuracy of Ki67 labelling index estimation by automated digital image analysis in breast cancer tissue

Introduction: Immunohistochemical Ki67 labelling index (Ki67 LI) reflects proliferative activity and is a potential prognostic/predictive marker of breast cancer. However, its clinical utility is hindered by the lack of standardized measurement methodologies. Besides tissue heterogeneity aspects, the key element of methodology remains accurate estimation of Ki67-stained/counterstained tumour cell profiles. We aimed to develop a methodology to ensure and improve accuracy of the digital image analysis (DIA) approach.

Methods: Tissue microarrays (one 1-mm spot per patient, n = 164) from invasive ductal breast carcinoma were stained for Ki67 and scanned. Criterion standard (Ki67-Count) was obtained by counting positive and negative tumour cell profiles using a stereology grid overlaid on a spot image. DIA was performed with Aperio Genie/Nuclear algorithms. A bias was estimated by ANOVA, correlation and regression analyses. Calibration steps of the DIA by adjusting the algorithm settings were performed: first, by subjective DIA quality assessment (DIA-1), and second, to compensate the bias established (DIA-2). Visual estimate (Ki67-VE) on the same images was performed by five pathologists independently.

Results: ANOVA revealed significant underestimation bias (P < 0.05) for DIA-0, DIA-1 and two pathologists’ VE, while DIA-2, VE-median and three other VEs were within the same range. Regression analyses revealed best accuracy for the DIA-2 (R-square = 0.90) exceeding that of VE-median, individual VEs and other DIA settings. Bidirectional bias for the DIA-2 with overestimation at low, and underestimation at high ends of the scale was detected. Measurement error correction by inverse regression was applied to improve DIA-2-based prediction of the Ki67-Count, in particular for the clinically relevant interval of Ki67-Count < 40%. Potential clinical impact of the prediction was tested by dichotomising the cases at the cut-off values of 10, 15, and 20%. Misclassification rate of 5-7% was achieved, compared to that of 11-18% for the VE-median-based prediction.

Conclusions: Our experiments provide methodology to achieve accurate Ki67-LI estimation by DIA, based on proper validation, calibration, and measurement error correction procedures, guided by quantified bias from reference values obtained by stereology grid count. This basic validation step is an important prerequisite for high-throughput automated DIA applications to investigate tissue heterogeneity and clinical utility aspects of Ki67 and other immunohistochemistry (IHC) biomarkers.

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