IHC Profiler: An Open Source Plugin for the Quantitative Evaluation and Automated Scoring of Immunohistochemistry Images of Human Tissue Samples
In anatomic pathology, immunohistochemistry (IHC) serves as a diagnostic and prognostic method for identification of disease markers in tissue samples that directly influences classification and grading the disease, influencing patient management. However, till today over most of the world, pathological analysis of tissue samples remained a time-consuming and subjective procedure, wherein the intensity of antibody staining is manually judged and thus scoring decision is directly influenced by visual bias. This instigated us to design a simple method of automated digital IHC image analysis algorithm for an unbiased, quantitative assessment of antibody staining intensity in tissue sections. As a first step, we adopted the spectral deconvolution method of DAB/hematoxylin color spectra by using optimized optical density vectors of the color deconvolution plugin for proper separation of the DAB color spectra. Then the DAB stained image is displayed in a new window wherein it undergoes pixel-by-pixel analysis, and displays the full profile along with its scoring decision. Based on the mathematical formula conceptualized, the algorithm is thoroughly tested by analyzing scores assigned to thousands (n = 1703) of DAB stained IHC images including sample images taken from human protein atlas web resource. The IHC Profiler plugin developed is compatible with the open resource digital image analysis software, ImageJ, which creates a pixel-by-pixel analysis profile of a digital IHC image and further assigns a score in a four tier system. A comparison study between manual pathological analysis and IHC Profiler resolved in a match of 88.6% (P<0.0001, CI = 95%). This new tool developed for clinical histopathological sample analysis can be adopted globally for scoring most protein targets where the marker protein expression is of cytoplasmic and/or nuclear type. We foresee that this method will minimize the problem of inter-observer variations across labs and further help in worldwide patient stratification potentially benefitting various multinational clinical trial initiatives.