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Applying Deep Neural Network Analysis to High-Content Image-Based Assays

Scott L. Lipnick
Nina R. Makhortova
Minjie Fan
Zan Armstrong
Thorsten M. Schlaeger
Liyong Deng
Wendy K. Chung
Liadan O'Callaghan
Dosh Whye
Jon Hazard
Arunachalam Narayanaswamy
D. Michael Ando
Lee L. Rubin
SLAS DISCOVERY: Advancing Life Sciences R\&D, vol. 0 (2019), pp. 2472555219857715


The etiological underpinnings of many CNS disorders are not well understood. This is likely due to the fact that individual diseases aggregate numerous pathological subtypes, each associated with a complex landscape of genetic risk factors. To overcome these challenges, researchers are integrating novel data types from numerous patients, including imaging studies capturing broadly applicable features from patient-derived materials. These datasets, when combined with machine learning, potentially hold the power to elucidate the subtle patterns that stratify patients by shared pathology. In this study, we interrogated whether high-content imaging of primary skin fibroblasts, using the Cell Painting method, could reveal disease-relevant information among patients. First, we showed that technical features such as batch/plate type, plate, and location within a plate lead to detectable nuisance signals, as revealed by a pre-trained deep neural network and analysis with deep image embeddings. Using a plate design and image acquisition strategy that accounts for these variables, we performed a pilot study with 12 healthy controls and 12 subjects affected by the severe genetic neurological disorder spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), and evaluated whether a convolutional neural network (CNN) generated using a subset of the cells could distinguish disease states on cells from the remaining unseen control–SMA pair. Our results indicate that these two populations could effectively be differentiated from one another and that model selectivity is insensitive to batch/plate type. One caveat is that the samples were also largely separated by source. These findings lay a foundation for how to conduct future studies exploring diseases with more complex genetic contributions and unknown subtypes.