An integrated mass spectrometry imaging and digital pathology workflow for objective detection of colorectal tumours by unique atomic signatures

Royal Society of Chemistry
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Chemical Science, 2021, 12, (30), pp. 10321-10333
Issue Date:
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Tumours are abnormal growths of cells that reproduce by redirecting essential nutrients and resources from surrounding tissue. Changes to cell metabolism that trigger the growth of tumours are reflected in subtle differences between the chemical composition of healthy and malignant cells. We used LA-ICP-MS imaging to investigate whether these chemical differences can be used to spatially identify tumours and support detection of primary colorectal tumours in anatomical pathology. First, we generated quantitative LA-ICP-MS images of three colorectal surgical resections with case-matched normal intestinal wall tissue and used this data in a Monte Carlo optimisation experiment to develop an algorithm that can classify pixels as tumour positive or negative. Blinded testing and interrogation of LA-ICP-MS images with micrographs of haematoxylin and eosin stained and Ki67 immunolabelled sections revealed Monte Carlo optimisation accurately identified primary tumour cells, as well as returning false positive pixels in areas of high cell proliferation. We analysed an additional 11 surgical resections of primary colorectal tumours and re-developed our image processing method to include a random forest regression machine learning model to correctly identify heterogenous tumours and exclude false positive pixels in images of non-malignant tissue. Our final model used over 1.6 billion calculations to correctly discern healthy cells from various types and stages of invasive colorectal tumours. The imaging mass spectrometry and data analysis methods described, developed in partnership with clinical cancer researchers, have the potential to further support cancer detection as part of a comprehensive digital pathology approach to cancer care through validation of a new chemical biomarker of tumour cells.
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