The use of several stains during histology sample preparation can be useful for fusing complementary information about different tissue structures. It reveals distinct tissue properties that combined may be useful for grading, classification, or 3-D reconstruction. Nevertheless, since the slide preparation is different for each stain and the procedure uses consecutive slices, the tissue undergoes complex and possibly large deformations. Therefore, a nonrigid registration is required before further processing. The nonrigid registration of differently stained histology images is a challenging task because: (i) the registration must be fully automatic, (ii) the histology images are extremely high-resolution, (iii) the registration should be as fast as possible, (iv) there are significant differences in the tissue appearance, and (v) there are not many unique features due to a repetitive texture.
In this article, we propose a deep learning-based solution to the histology registration. We describe a registration framework dedicated to high-resolution histology images that can perform the registration in real-time. The framework consists of an automatic background segmentation, iterative initial rotation search and learning-based affine/nonrigid registration.
We evaluate our approach using an open dataset provided for the Automatic Non-rigid Histological Image Registration (ANHIR) challenge organized jointly with the IEEE ISBI 2019 conference. We compare our solution to the challenge participants using a server-side evaluation tool provided by the challenge organizers. Following the challenge evaluation criteria, we use the target registration error (TRE) as the evaluation metric. Our algorithm provides registration accuracy close to the best scoring teams (median rTRE 0.19% of the image diagonal) while being significantly faster (the average registration time is about 2 seconds).
The proposed framework provides results, in terms of the TRE, comparable to the best-performing state-of-the-art methods. However, it is significantly faster, thus potentially more useful in clinical practice where a large number of histology images are being processed. The proposed method is of particular interest to researchers requiring an accurate, real-time, nonrigid registration of high-resolution histology images for whom the processing time of traditional, iterative methods in unacceptable. We provide free access to the software implementation of the method, including training and inference code, as well as pretrained models. Since the ANHIR dataset is open, this makes the results fully and easily reproducible.