Background: Synthesis of data from published human genetic association studies is a critical step in the translation of human genome discoveries into health applications. Although genetic association studies account for a substantial proportion of the abstracts in PubMed, identifying them with standard queries is not always accurate or efficient. Further automating the literature-screening process can reduce the burden of a labor-intensive and time-consuming traditional literature search. The Support Vector Machine (SVM), a well-established machine learning technique, has been successful in classifying text, including biomedical literature. The GAPscreener, a free SVM-based software tool, can be used to assist in screening PubMed abstracts for human genetic association studies.
Results: The data source for this research was the HuGE Navigator, formerly known as the HuGE Pub Lit database. Weighted SVM feature selection based on a keyword list obtained by the two-way z score method demonstrated the best screening performance, achieving 97.5% recall, 98.3% specificity and 31.9% precision in performance testing. Compared with the traditional screening process based on a complex PubMed query, the SVM tool reduced by about 90% the number of abstracts requiring individual review by the database curator. The tool also ascertained 47 articles that were missed by the traditional literature screening process during the 4-week test period. We examined the literature on genetic associations with preterm birth as an example. Compared with the traditional, manual process, the GAPscreener both reduced effort and improved accuracy.
Conclusion: GAPscreener is the first free SVM-based application available for screening the human genetic association literature in PubMed with high recall and specificity. The user-friendly graphical user interface makes this a practical, stand-alone application. The software can be downloaded at no charge.