Assessment of Classification Models and Relevant Features on Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis Using Random Forest
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is the hepatic manifestation of metabolic syndrome and is the most common cause of chronic liver disease in developed countries. Certain conditions, including mild inflammation biomarkers, dyslipidemia, and insulin resistance, can trigger a progression to nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), a condition characterized by inflammation and liver cell damage. We demonstrate the usefulness of machine learning with a case study to analyze the most important features in random forest (RF) models for predicting patients at risk of developing NASH. We collected data from patients who attended the Cardiovascular Risk Unit of Mostoles University Hospital (Madrid, Spain) from 2005 to 2021. We reviewed electronic health records to assess the presence of NASH, which was used as the outcome. We chose RF as the algorithm to develop six models using different pre-processing strategies. The performance metrics was evaluated to choose an optimized model. Finally, several interpretability techniques, such as feature importance, contribution of each feature to predictions, and partial dependence plots, were used to understand and explain the model to help obtain a better understanding of machine learning-based predictions. In total, 1525 patients met the inclusion criteria. The mean age was 57.3 years, and 507 patients had NASH (prevalence of 33.2%). Filter methods (the chi-square and Mann–Whitney–Wilcoxon tests) did not produce additional insight in terms of interactions, contributions, or relationships among variables and their outcomes. The random forest model correctly classified patients with NASH to an accuracy of 0.87 in the best model and to 0.79 in the worst one. Four features were the most relevant: insulin resistance, ferritin, serum levels of insulin, and triglycerides. The contribution of each feature was assessed via partial dependence plots. Random forest-based modeling demonstrated that machine learning can be used to improve interpretability, produce understanding of the modeled behavior, and demonstrate how far certain features can contribute to predictions.
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