Automated Interpretation of Blood Culture Gram Stains by Use of a Deep Convolutional Neural Network.
Microscopic interpretation of stained smears is one of the most operator-dependent and time-intensive activities in the clinical microbiology laboratory. Here, we investigated application of an automated image acquisition and convolutional neural network (CNN)-based approach for automated Gram stain classification. Using an automated microscopy platform, uncoverslipped slides were scanned with a 40× dry objective, generating images of sufficient resolution for interpretation. We collected 25,488 images from positive blood culture Gram stains prepared during routine clinical workup. These images were used to generate 100,213 crops containing Gram-positive cocci in clusters, Gram-positive cocci in chains/pairs, Gram-negative rods, or background (no cells). These categories were targeted for proof-of-concept development as they are associated with the majority of bloodstream infections. Our CNN model achieved a classification accuracy of 94.9% on a test set of image crops. Receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curve analysis indicated a robust ability to differentiate between categories with an area under the curve of >0.98 for each. After training and validation, we applied the classification algorithm to new images collected from 189 whole slides without human intervention. Sensitivity and specificity were 98.4% and 75.0% for Gram-positive cocci in chains and pairs, 93.2% and 97.2% for Gram-positive cocci in clusters, and 96.3% and 98.1% for Gram-negative rods. Taken together, our data support a proof of concept for a fully automated classification methodology for blood-culture Gram stains. Importantly, the algorithm was highly adept at identifying image crops with organisms and could be used to present prescreened, classified crops to technologists to accelerate smear review. This concept could potentially be extended to all Gram stain interpretive activities in the clinical laboratory.