Assessing red blood cell deformability from microscopy images using deep learning†
Red blood cells (RBCs) must be highly deformable to transit through the microvasculature to deliver oxygen to tissues. The loss of RBC deformability resulting from pathology, natural aging, or storage in blood bags can impede the proper function of these cells. A variety of methods have been developed to measure RBC deformability, but these methods require specialized equipment, long measurement time, and highly skilled personnel. To address this challenge, we investigated whether a machine learning approach could be used to predict donor RBC deformability based on morphological features from single cell microscope images. We used the microfluidic ratchet device to sort RBCs based on deformability. Sorted cells are then imaged and used to train a deep learning model to classify RBC based image features related to cell deformability. This model correctly predicted deformability of individual RBCs with 81 ± 11% accuracy averaged across ten donors. Using this model to score the deformability of RBC samples was accurate to within 10.4 ± 6.8% of the value obtained using the microfluidic ratchet device. While machine learning methods are frequently developed to automate human image analysis, our study is remarkable in showing that deep learning of single cell microscopy images could be used to assess RBC deformability, a property not normally measurable by imaging. Measuring RBC deformability by imaging is also desirable because it can be performed rapidly using a standard microscopy system, potentially enabling RBC deformability studies to be performed as part of routine clinical assessments.