DeepFeature: feature selection in nonimage data using convolutional neural network

Brief Bioinform. 2021 Nov 5;22(6):bbab297. doi: 10.1093/bib/bbab297.


Artificial intelligence methods offer exciting new capabilities for the discovery of biological mechanisms from raw data because they are able to detect vastly more complex patterns of association that cannot be captured by classical statistical tests. Among these methods, deep neural networks are currently among the most advanced approaches and, in particular, convolutional neural networks (CNNs) have been shown to perform excellently for a variety of difficult tasks. Despite that applications of this type of networks to high-dimensional omics data and, most importantly, meaningful interpretation of the results returned from such models in a biomedical context remains an open problem. Here we present, an approach applying a CNN to nonimage data for feature selection. Our pipeline, DeepFeature, can both successfully transform omics data into a form that is optimal for fitting a CNN model and can also return sets of the most important genes used internally for computing predictions. Within the framework, the Snowfall compression algorithm is introduced to enable more elements in the fixed pixel framework, and region accumulation and element decoder is developed to find elements or genes from the class activation maps. In comparative tests for cancer type prediction task, DeepFeature simultaneously achieved superior predictive performance and better ability to discover key pathways and biological processes meaningful for this context. Capabilities offered by the proposed framework can enable the effective use of powerful deep learning methods to facilitate the discovery of causal mechanisms in high-dimensional biomedical data.

Keywords: Convolutional neural network; DeepInsight; Feature selection; Non-image data; Omics data.