- Abstract: Predicting the outcome of pharmacological assays based on high-resolution microscopy images of treated cells is a crucial task in drug discovery which tremendously increases discovery rates. However, end-to-end learning on these images with convolutional neural networks (CNNs) has not been ventured for this task because it has been considered infeasible and overly complex. On the largest available public dataset, we compare several state-of-the-art CNNs trained in an end-to-end fashion with models based on a cell-centric approach involving segmentation. We found that CNNs operating on full images containing hundreds of cells perform significantly better at assay prediction than networks operating on a single-cell level. Surprisingly, we could predict 29% of the 209 pharmacological assays at high predictive performance (AUC > 0.9). We compared a novel CNN architecture called “GapNet” against four competing CNN architectures and found that it performs on par with the best methods and at the same time has the lowest training time. Our results demonstrate that end-to-end learning on high-resolution imaging data is not only possible but even outperforms cell-centric and segmentation-dependent approaches. Hence, the costly cell segmentation and feature extraction steps are not necessary, in fact they even hamper predictive performance. Our work further suggests that many pharmacological assays could be replaced by high-resolution microscopy imaging together with convolutional neural networks.
- Keywords: Convolutional Neural Networks, High-resolution images, Multiple-Instance Learning, Drug Discovery, Molecular Biology