Personalized survival predictions via Trees of Predictors: An application to cardiac transplantation

Jinsung Yoon, William R. Zame, Amitava Banerjee, Martin Cadeiras, Ahmed M. Alaa, Mihaela van der Schaar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Background Risk prediction is crucial in many areas of medical practice, such as cardiac transplantation, but existing clinical risk-scoring methods have suboptimal performance. We develop a novel risk prediction algorithm and test its performance on the database of all patients who were registered for cardiac transplantation in the United States during 1985-2015. Methods and findings We develop a new, interpretable, methodology (ToPs: Trees of Predictors) built on the principle that specific predictive (survival) models should be used for specific clusters within the patient population. ToPs discovers these specific clusters and the specific predictive model that performs best for each cluster. In comparison with existing clinical risk scoring methods and state-of-the-art machine learning methods, our method provides significant improvements in survival predictions, both post- and pre-cardiac transplantation. For instance: in terms of 3-month survival post-transplantation, our method achieves AUC of 0.660; the best clinical risk scoring method (RSS) achieves 0.587. In terms of 3-year survival/mortality predictions post-transplantation (in comparison to RSS), holding specificity at 80.0%, our algorithm correctly predicts survival for 2,442 (14.0%) more patients (of 17,441 who actually survived); holding sensitivity at 80.0%, our algorithm correctly predicts mortality for 694 (13.0%) more patients (of 5,339 who did not survive). ToPs achieves similar improvements for other time horizons and for predictions pre-transplantation. ToPs discovers the most relevant features (covariates), uses available features to best advantage, and can adapt to changes in clinical practice. Conclusions We show that, in comparison with existing clinical risk-scoring methods and other machine learning methods, ToPs significantly improves survival predictions both post- and pre-cardiac transplantation. ToPs provides a more accurate, personalized approach to survival prediction that can benefit patients, clinicians, and policymakers in making clinical decisions and setting clinical policy. Because survival prediction is widely used in clinical decision-making across diseases and clinical specialties, the implications of our methods are far-reaching.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0194985
JournalPloS one
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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