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Automated detection of microscopic placental features indicative of maternal vascular malperfusion using machine learning.

Placenta 2024 January
INTRODUCTION: Hypertensive disorders of pregnancy (HDP) and fetal growth restriction (FGR) are common obstetrical complications, often with pathological features of maternal vascular malperfusion (MVM) in the placenta. Currently, clinical placental pathology methods involve a manual visual examination of histology sections, a practice that can be resource-intensive and demonstrates moderate-to-poor inter-pathologist agreement on diagnostic outcomes, dependant on the degree of pathologist sub-specialty training.

METHODS: This study aims to apply machine learning (ML) feature extraction methods to classify digital images of placental histopathology specimens, collected from cases of HDP [pregnancy induced hypertension (PIH), preeclampsia (PE), PE + FGR], normotensive FGR, and healthy pregnancies, according to the presence or absence of MVM lesions. 159 digital images were captured from histological placental specimens, manually scored for MVM lesions (MVM- or MVM+) and used to develop a support vector machine (SVM) classifier model, using features extracted from pre-trained ResNet18. The model was trained with data augmentation and shuffling, with the performance assessed for patch-level and image-level classification through measurements of accuracy, precision, and recall using confusion matrices.

RESULTS: The SVM model demonstrated accuracies of 70 % and 79 % for patch-level and image-level MVM classification, respectively, with poorest performance observed on images with borderline MVM presence, as determined through post hoc observation.

DISCUSSION: The results are promising for the integration of ML methods into the placental histopathological examination process. Using this study as a proof-of-concept will lead our group and others to carry ML models further in placental histopathology.

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