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Convolutional Neural Networks Can Predict Retinal Differentiation in Retinal Organoids

Evgenii Kegeles, Anton Naumov, Evgeny A. Karpulevich, Pavel Volchkov, Petr Baranov

We have developed a deep learning-based computer algorithm to recognize and predict retinal differentiation in stem cell-derived organoids based on bright-field imaging. The three-dimensional “organoid” approach for the differentiation of pluripotent stem cells (PSC) into retinal and other neural tissues has become a major in vitro strategy to recapitulate development. We decided to develop a universal, robust, and non-invasive method to assess retinal differentiation that would not require chemical probes or reporter gene expression. We hypothesized that basic-contrast bright-field (BF) images contain sufficient information on tissue specification, and it is possible to extract this data using convolutional neural networks (CNNs). Retina-specific Rx-green fluorescent protein mouse embryonic reporter stem cells have been used for all of the differentiation experiments in this work. The BF images of organoids have been taken on day 5 and fluorescent on day 9. To train the CNN, we utilized a transfer learning approach: ImageNet pre-trained ResNet50v2, VGG19, Xception, and DenseNet121 CNNs had been trained on labeled BF images of the organoids, divided into two categories (retina and non-retina), based on the fluorescent reporter gene expression. The best-performing classifier with ResNet50v2 architecture showed a receiver operating characteristic-area under the curve score of 0.91 on a test dataset. A comparison of the best-performing CNN with the human-based classifier showed that the CNN algorithm performs better than the expert in predicting organoid fate (84% vs. 67 ± 6% of correct predictions, respectively), confirming our original hypothesis. Overall, we have demonstrated that the computer algorithm can successfully recognize and predict retinal differentiation in organoids before the onset of reporter gene expression. This is the first demonstration of CNN’s ability to classify stem cell-derived tissue in vitro.

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