Development and utility assessment of a machine learning bloodstream infection classifier in pediatric patients receiving cancer treatments

BMC Cancer. 2020 Nov 13;20(1):1103. doi: 10.1186/s12885-020-07618-2.


Background: Objectives were to build a machine learning algorithm to identify bloodstream infection (BSI) among pediatric patients with cancer and hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) recipients, and to compare this approach with presence of neutropenia to identify BSI.

Methods: We included patients 0-18 years of age at cancer diagnosis or HSCT between January 2009 and November 2018. Eligible blood cultures were those with no previous blood culture (regardless of result) within 7 days. The primary outcome was BSI. Four machine learning algorithms were used: elastic net, support vector machine and two implementations of gradient boosting machine (GBM and XGBoost). Model training and evaluation were performed using temporally disjoint training (60%), validation (20%) and test (20%) sets. The best model was compared to neutropenia alone in the test set.

Results: Of 11,183 eligible blood cultures, 624 (5.6%) were positive. The best model in the validation set was GBM, which achieved an area-under-the-receiver-operator-curve (AUROC) of 0.74 in the test set. Among the 2236 in the test set, the number of false positives and specificity of GBM vs. neutropenia were 508 vs. 592 and 0.76 vs. 0.72 respectively. Among 139 test set BSIs, six (4.3%) non-neutropenic patients were identified by GBM. All received antibiotics prior to culture result availability.

Conclusions: We developed a machine learning algorithm to classify BSI. GBM achieved an AUROC of 0.74 and identified 4.3% additional true cases in the test set. The machine learning algorithm did not perform substantially better than using presence of neutropenia alone to predict BSI.

Keywords: Bloodstream infection; Cancer; Children; Classifier; Machine learning.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Bacteremia / blood
  • Bacteremia / classification
  • Bacteremia / diagnosis*
  • Bacteremia / etiology
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Machine Learning*
  • Male
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Neutropenia / blood
  • Neutropenia / diagnosis*
  • Neutropenia / etiology
  • Prognosis
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sepsis / blood
  • Sepsis / classification
  • Sepsis / diagnosis*
  • Sepsis / etiology
  • Support Vector Machine