Posts Tagged ‘bio-markers’

Imaging-biomarkers is Imaging-based tissue characterization

Author – Writer: Dror Nir, PhD

For everyone who is skeptical about the future role of imaging-based tissue chracterisation in the management of cancer, the following “Statement paper” ESR statement on the stepwise development of imaging biomarkers published online: 9 February 2013, by the European Society of Radiology (ESR), should provide substantial reassurance that this kind of technology will become a must! In support of this claim I quote the following information:

The European Society of Radiology and its related European Institute for Biomedical Imaging Research (EIBIR) should have a relevant role in coordinating future developments of biomarkers and in the assessment and validation of imaging biomarkers as surrogate end points.


This paper was kindly prepared by the ESR Subcommittee on Imaging Biomarkers (Chairperson: Bernard Van Beers. Research Committee Chairperson: Luis Martí-Bonmatí. Members: Marco Essig, Thomas Helbich, Celso Matos, Wiro Niessen, Anwar Padhani, Harriet C. Thoeny, Siegfried Trattnig, Jean-Paul Vallée. Co-opted members: Peter Brader, Nicolas Grenier) on behalf of the European Society of Radiology (ESR) and with the help of Sabrina Doblas, INSERM U773, Paris, France.

It was approved by the ESR Executive Council in December 2012..

According to ESR: “There is increasing interest in developing the quantitative imaging of biomarkers in personalised medicine”. In this perspective, “Biomarkers” are tissue properties that can be quantitatively and reproducibly measured by imaging devices. One example for a major unmet need, which I found to be most interesting is the imaging-based detection of tumor invasiveness.

Quoting from the paper: ” Biomarkers are defined as “characteristics that are objectively measured and evaluated as indicators of normal biological processes, pathological processes, or pharmaceutical responses to a therapeutic intervention” [1]. Broadly, biomarkers fall into two categories: bio-specimen biomarkers, including molecular biomarkers and genetic biomarkers, and bio-signal biomarkers or imaging biomarkers. Bio-specimen biomarkers are obtained by removing a sample from a patient. Examples of these molecular biomarkers are genes and proteins detected from fluids or tissue samples. Bio-signal biomarkers remove no material from the patient, but rather detect and analyse an electromagnetic, photonic or acoustic signal emitted by the patient [2]. These imaging biomarkers have the advantage of being non-invasive, spatially resolved and repeatable [3]. They are of particular interest if they can overcome the limitations of the established histological “gold standards”. Indeed, invasive reference examinations, such as biopsy, can be inconclusive, are non-representative of the whole tissue (which is a tremendous limitation when assessing malignant tumours, which are known to be heterogeneous) and possess non-negligible levels of mortality and morbidity.

Genetic biomarkers indicate whether a disease may occur, but they are usually inefficient to assess the presence and stage of a disease. Similar to molecular biomarkers, imaging biomarkers can be used for early detection of diseases, staging and grading, and predicting or assessing the response to treatment [3]. Accordingly, because of their relative lower cost compared with imaging, molecular biomarkers may be more appropriate for disease screening and early detection than imaging biomarkers. With their high sensitivity, molecular biomarkers could also detect subclinical stages of disease before any morphological or functional change is detectable on imaging. In contrast, imaging biomarkers are often more useful than molecular biomarkers for disease staging, and also grading and for assessing tumour response, because localised information is crucial.

The main messages ESR wishes to deliver in this paper are that:

• Using imaging-biomarkers to streamline drug discovery and disease progression will drive a huge advancement in healthcare.

• The clinical qualification and validation of imaging biomarkers technology pose challenges, mainly in establishing the accuracy and reproducibility of such techniques. In that respect, agreements on standards and evaluation methods (e.g. clinical studies design) is imperative.

• There should be high motivation to pursue the development of imaging-biomarkers as the “clinical value of new biomarkers is of the highest priority in terms of patient management, assessing risk factors and disease prognosis.”

The paper deals to a great extent with the requirements on accuracy, reproducibility, standardization and quality control from the process of developing imaging-biomarkers:

Accuracy: Before being routinely used in the clinic, imaging biomarkers must be validated. Determining the accuracy implies calculating the sensitivity and specificity of the biomarker when compared with a biological process, such as tumour necrosis, which can be assessed at histopathological examination… [69]  [10, 11]

Reproducibility: Repeatability (measurements at short intervals on the same subjects using the same equipment in the same centres) and reproducibility (measurements at short intervals on the same subjects using different facilities in the same and different centres) studies must be conducted for image acquisition and image analysis…. Reproducibility studies are now very often included in scientific papers, as advised by the “standards for reporting of diagnostic accuracy” (STARD) criteria and should ideally include Bland-Altman plots and results of coefficients of repeatability [1617].

Standardisation: Standardisation relates to the establishment of norms or requirements about technical aspects. In the development of imaging biomarkers, two main aspects should be considered: Standardisation of image acquisition and Standardisation of image analysis…  [18] [1921]  [22] [27, 28] [3133]

Quality control: Adequate phantoms could be used to validate, on a day-to-day basis, that the biomarker stays robust and to avoid any drift in the machine, acquisition or processing protocol….  [34] [3035] [36] [37] [23].

The proposed development workflow:

“Similar to new drugs, the development of biomarkers has to pass along a pipeline going from discovery, through verification in different laboratories, validation and qualification before they can be used in clinical routine. Validation includes the determination of the accuracy and the precision (reproducibility) of the biomarker and standardisation concerns both acquisition and analysis. Qualification, defined as a “graded, fit-for-purpose evidentiary process linking a biomarker with biological processes and clinical end-points”, is a validation process in large cohorts of patients involving multiple centres, similar to phase III clinical trials, to obtain regulatory approval as surrogate endpoints [4]. A more extensive path to biomarker development has been reported [5]. The first step is the proof of concept, which defines any specific change relevant to the disease that can be studied using the available imaging and computational techniques. The relationship between this change and the presence, grading and response to treatment of the disease constitutes the proof of mechanism. The images needed to extract the biomarker must be appropriate (in terms of resolution, signal and contrast behaviour). Preparation of images relates to improving the data before the analysis (such as segmentation, filtering, interpolation or registration). The analysis and modelling of the signal by computational numerical adjustment of a mathematical model allow extracting the needed information (such as structural, physical, chemical, biological and functional properties). After this voxel-by-voxel computation, the spatial distribution of the biomarker can be depicted by parametric images, defined as derived secondary images which pixels represent the distribution values of a given parameter. Multivariate parametric images obtained by statistical modelling of the relevant parameters allow the reduction of data and a clear definition of the defined disease target. The abnormal values should be defined and measured through histogram analysis. A pilot test on a small sample of subjects, with and without the disease, has to be performed to validate the process—also called proof of principle—and to evaluate the influence of potential variations related to age, sex or any other source of biases. Finally, proofs of efficacy and effectiveness on larger and well-defined series of patients will show the ability of a biomarker to measure the clinical endpoint (Fig. 1).

Steps for the development of imaging biomarkers (adapted from [5])

Steps for the development of imaging biomarkers (adapted from [5])

The authors admit that the requirement posed on development of imaging-biomarkers represents a huge challenge and they try to offer ideas, mainly taken from the “MRI experience” to overcome certain hurdles. There is one important point on which they do not discuss: the definition of appropriate reference test. It is my own experience, based on many study protocols I developed in the past decade, that without reaching an agreement on that point, the development of imaging-biomarkers will just move in circles. Note, that today’s most “acceptable” reference test is histopathology, which everyone admits (as well mentioned in this paper); suffers many limitations. When it comes to validating imaging-biomarkers, the need to accurately match imaging products with histopathology is an additional major hurdle.

This is why, I see as a necessary step, to develop “real-time” imaging based tissue characterization combined with in-situ imaging-based histology.




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