Glomerular disease classification and lesion identification by machine learning

Published by Biomedical Journal, Sept. 2021



Classification of glomerular diseases and identification of glomerular lesions require careful morphological examination by experienced nephropathologists, which is labor-intensive, time-consuming, and prone to interobserver variability. In this regard, recent advance in machine learning-based image analysis is promising.


We combined Mask Region-based Convolutional Neural Networks (Mask R–CNN) with an additional classification step to build a glomerulus detection model using human kidney biopsy samples. A Long Short-Term Memory (LSTM) recurrent neural network was applied for glomerular disease classification, and another two-stage model using ResNeXt-101 was constructed for glomerular lesion identification in cases of lupus nephritis.


The detection model showed state-of-the-art performance on variedly stained slides with F1 scores up to 0.944. The disease classification model showed good accuracies up to 0.940 on recognizing different glomerular diseases based on H&E whole slide images. The lesion identification model demonstrated high discriminating power with area under the receiver operating characteristic curve up to 0.947 for various glomerular lesions. Models showed good generalization on external testing datasets.


This study is the first-of-its-kind showing how each step of kidney biopsy interpretation carried out by nephropathologists can be captured and simulated by machine learning models. The models were integrated into a whole slide image viewing and annotating platform to enable nephropathologists to review, correct, and confirm the inference results. Further improvement on model performances and incorporating inputs from immunofluorescence, electron microscopy, and clinical data might realize actual clinical use.

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