Slideflow provides tools for easily building and testing a variety of deep learning models for digital pathology.

This section provides a high-level overview of the most common application: building and testing a weakly supervised predictive model. Slideflow supports many other tasks, including multiple-instance learning (MIL), self-supervised learning (SSL), generative adversarial networks (GANs), and deployment & visualization, which are discussed in subsequent sections.


High-level overview of model building.

The pipeline for a deep learning classification experiment is separated into three phases.

  1. Tile extraction - annotate slides with regions of interest (ROIs) [optional] and extract image tiles from whole-slide images.

  2. Model training - determine model parameters, train a model, and evaluate the model on a held-out test set.

  3. Explainability - generate predictive heatmaps and analyze learned image features.

A brief introduction to the steps needed to execute a basic experiment is provided below. Each process will be described in more detail in the following sections.

Step 1: Prepare a dataset

  • Extract tiles. Tiles are extracted from slides at a given magnification size in microns (or a magnification layer, such as “10x”), and saved at a given resolution in pixels. The optimal extraction size in both microns and pixels will depend on your dataset and model architecture. Poor quality tiles - including background tiles or tiles with high whitespace content - can be discarded with quality control methods. Tiles will be stored as TFRecords, a binary file format used to improve dataset reading performance during training. Each slide will have its own TFRecord file containing its extracted tiles.

  • Set aside final evaluation set. Split the dataset into a training/validation set and held-out test set.

  • Determing validation plan. By default, three-fold cross-validation will be performed during training. Many other validation strategies are also supported (Training/Validation Splitting).

Step 2: Train a model

  • Choose model type. Choose the endpoint (e.g. classification, regression, time-to-event) and type of model (tile-based or multiple-instance learning).

  • Set hyperparameters. Choose a model architecture (e.g. InceptionV3, VGG16, ResNet, etc.) and a set of hyperparameters (e.g. batch size, learning rate, etc.). This can be done manually, or hyperparameters can be optimized via grid search or Bayesian optimization.

  • Initiate training. Train your model, taking note of training and validation performance (e.g. accuracy, AUROC, AP, R-squared, C-index).

Step 3: Evaluate the model

Step 4: Generate heatmaps

  • Generate heatmaps: Generate heatmaps of predictions across slides in the held-out dataset to assist with interpretability. For MIL models, heatmaps of both predictions and attention can be generated.


Step 5: Make a Mosaic map

  • Generate a mosaic map: Create a mosaic map, which visually illustrates the latent space of your trained model and held-out dataset, to assist with interpretability.


Step 6: Live visualization

  • Deploy the model: Finally, use a trained model to visualize predictions for whole-slide images with the interactive tool Slideflow Studio. This whole-slide image viewer includes deep learning tools enabling you to visualize model predictions on whole-slide images, standard JPG/PNG files, real-time camera feeds, and even Generative Adversarial Network (GAN)-generated images.