A Rigorous Machine Learning Analysis Pipeline for Biomedical Binary Classification: Application in Pancreatic Cancer Nested Case-control Studies with Implications for Bias Asse

08/28/2020 ∙ by Ryan J. Urbanowicz, et al. ∙ 20

Machine learning (ML) offers a collection of powerful approaches for detecting and modeling associations, often applied to data having a large number of features and/or complex associations. Currently, there are many tools to facilitate implementing custom ML analyses (e.g. scikit-learn). Interest is also increasing in automated ML packages, which can make it easier for non-experts to apply ML and have the potential to improve model performance. ML permeates most subfields of biomedical research with varying levels of rigor and correct usage. Tremendous opportunities offered by ML are frequently offset by the challenge of assembling comprehensive analysis pipelines, and the ease of ML misuse. In this work we have laid out and assembled a complete, rigorous ML analysis pipeline focused on binary classification (i.e. case/control prediction), and applied this pipeline to both simulated and real world data. At a high level, this 'automated' but customizable pipeline includes a) exploratory analysis, b) data cleaning and transformation, c) feature selection, d) model training with 9 established ML algorithms, each with hyperparameter optimization, and e) thorough evaluation, including appropriate metrics, statistical analyses, and novel visualizations. This pipeline organizes the many subtle complexities of ML pipeline assembly to illustrate best practices to avoid bias and ensure reproducibility. Additionally, this pipeline is the first to compare established ML algorithms to 'ExSTraCS', a rule-based ML algorithm with the unique capability of interpretably modeling heterogeneous patterns of association. While designed to be widely applicable we apply this pipeline to an epidemiological investigation of established and newly identified risk factors for pancreatic cancer to evaluate how different sources of bias might be handled by ML algorithms.

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