Background The Response Assessment in Neuro-Oncology (RANO) criteria and requirements for a uniform protocol have been introduced to standardise assessment of MRI scans in both clinical trials and clinical practice. However, these criteria mainly rely on manual two-dimensional measurements of contrast-enhancing (CE) target lesions and thus restrict both reliability and accurate assessment of tumour burden and treatment response. We aimed to develop a framework relying on artificial neural networks (ANNs) for fully automated quantitative analysis of MRI in neurooncology to overcome the inherent limitations of manual assessment of tumour burden. Methods In this retrospective study, we compiled a single-institution dataset of MRI data from patients with brain tumours being treated at Heidelberg University Hospital (Heidelberg, Germany; Heidelberg training dataset) to develop and train an ANN for automated identification and volumetric segmentation of CE tumours and nonenhancing T2-signal abnormalities (NEs) on MRI. Independent testing and large-scale application of the ANN for tumour segmentation was done in a single-institution longitudinal testing dataset from the Heidelberg University Hospital and in a multi-institutional longitudinal testing dataset from the prospective randomised phase 2 and 3 European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC)-26101 trial (NCT01290939), acquired at 38 institutions across Europe. In both longitudinal datasets, spatial and temporal tumour volume dynamics were automatically quantified to calculate time to progression, which was compared with time to progression determined by RANO, both in terms of reliability and as a surrogate endpoint for predicting overall survival. We integrated this approach for fully automated quantitative analysis of MRI in neuro-oncology within an application-ready software infrastructure and applied it in a simulated clinical environment of patients with brain tumours from the Heidelberg University Hospital (Heidelberg simulation dataset). Findings For training of the ANN, MRI data were collected from 455 patients with brain tumours (one MRI per patient) being treated at Heidelberg hospital between July 29, 2009, and March 17, 2017 (Heidelberg training dataset). For independent testing of the ANN, an independent longitudinal dataset of 40 patients, with data from 239 MRI scans, was collected at Heidelberg University Hospital in parallel with the training dataset (Heidelberg test dataset), and 2034 MRI scans from 532 patients at 34 institutions collected between Oct 26, 2011, and Dec 3, 2015, in the EORTC-26101 study were of sufficient quality to be included in the EORTC-26101 test dataset. The ANN yielded excellent performance for accurate detection and segmentation of CE tumours and NE volumes in both longitudinal test datasets (median DICE coefficient for CE tumours 0·89 [95% CI 0·86–0·90], and for NEs 0·93 [0·92–0·94] in the Heidelberg test dataset; CE tumours 0·91 [0·90–0·92], NEs 0·93 [0·93–0·94] in the EORTC-26101 test dataset). Time to progression from quantitative ANN-based assessment of tumour response was a significantly better surrogate endpoint than central RANO assessment for predicting overall survival in the EORTC-26101 test dataset (hazard ratios ANN 2·59 [95% CI 1·86–3·60] vs central RANO 2·07 [1·46–2·92]; p<0·0001) and also yielded a 36% margin over RANO (p<0·0001) when comparing reliability values (ie, agreement in the quantitative volumetrically defined time to progression [based on radiologist ground truth vs automated assessment with ANN] of 87% [266 of 306 with sufficient data] compared with 51% [155 of 306] with local vs independent central RANO assessment). In the Heidelberg simulation dataset, which comprised 466 patients with brain tumours, with 595 MRI scans obtained between April 27, and Sept 17, 2018, automated on-demand processing of MRI scans and quantitative tumour response assessment within the simulated clinical environment required 10 min of computation time (average per scan). Interpretation Overall, we found that ANN enabled objective and automated assessment of tumour response in neuro-oncology at high throughput and could ultimately serve as a blueprint for the application of ANN in radiology to improve clinical decision making. Future research should focus on prospective validation within clinical trials and application for automated high-throughput imaging biomarker discovery and extension to other diseases.

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Journal The Lancet Oncology
Kickingereder, P., Isensee, F., Tursunova, I., Petersen, J, Neuberger, U., Bonekamp, D., … Maier-Hein, K.H. (2019). Automated quantitative tumour response assessment of MRI in neuro-oncology with artificial neural networks: a multicentre, retrospective study. The Lancet Oncology, 20(5), 728–740. doi:10.1016/s1470-2045(19)30098-1