van der Schaar Lab

Paper on COVID-19 risk factors in Brazil published in Nature Scientific Reports

A first-of-its-kind COVID-19 analysis authored jointly by the van der Schaar Lab, the University of Cambridge’s Department of Medicine, and a group of Brazilian researchers has been published in Nature Scientific Reports (editor-in-chief: Richard White).

The goal of this research was to provide the scientific community and, in particular, the Brazilian authorities with a ranking of the most important social, health, and economic risk factors related to COVID-19.

Building on previous statistical research (published in The Lancet Global Health) to identify the importance of ethnicity and socioeconomic status in determining outcome, this new study applies machine learning techniques to the Brazilian SIVEP-Gripe respiratory infection surveillance dataset to study demographic, patient, socioeconomic and organizational structure influences on COVID-19 outcome.

The authors concluded that socioeconomic and structural factors are as important as biological factors in determining COVID-19 outcomes in Brazil. Particularly important factors were: the state of residence and its development index; the distance to the hospital (especially for rural and less developed areas); the level of education; hospital funding model and strain. Ethnicity was also confirmed to be more important than comorbidities but less than the aforementioned factors.

This is the first known study of its kind to have been conducted in Brazil. Further details can be found below.

Comparing COVID-19 risk factors in Brazil using machine learning:
the importance of socioeconomic, demographic and structural factors

Pedro Baqui, Valerio Marra, Ahmed M. Alaa, Ioana Bica, Ari Ercole, Mihaela van der Schaar

Nature Scientific Reports

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a devastating impact on Brazil. Brazil’s social, health and economic crises are aggravated by strong societal inequities and persisting political disarray. This complex scenario motivates careful study of the clinical, socioeconomic, demographic and structural factors contributing to increased risk of mortality from SARS-CoV-2 in Brazil specifically.

We consider the Brazilian SIVEP-Gripe catalog, a very rich respiratory infection dataset which allows us to estimate the importance of several non-laboratorial and socio-geographic factors on COVID-19 mortality. We analyze the catalog using machine learning algorithms to account for likely complex interdependence between metrics. The XGBoost algorithm achieved excellent performance, producing an AUC-ROC of 0.813 (95% CI 0.810–0.817), and outperforming logistic regression.

Using our model we found that, in Brazil, socioeconomic, geographical and structural factors are more important than individual comorbidities. Particularly important factors were: The state of residence and its development index; the distance to the hospital (especially for rural and less developed areas); the level of education; hospital funding model and strain. Ethnicity is also confirmed to be more important than comorbidities but less than the aforementioned factors.

In conclusion, socioeconomic and structural factors are as important as biological factors in determining the outcome of COVID-19. This has important consequences for policy making, especially on vaccination/non-pharmacological preventative measures, hospital management and healthcare network organization.

For a full list of the van der Schaar Lab’s publications, click here.

To find out more about the van der Schaar Lab’s work related to the COVID-19 pandemic, visit our dedicated page here.

Ioana Bica

Ioana Bica is a second year PhD student at the University of Oxford and at the Alan Turing Institute. She has previously completed a BA and MPhil in Computer Science at the University of Cambridge where she has specialised in machine learning and its applications to biomedicine.

Ioana’s PhD research focuses on building machine learning methods for causal inference and individualised treatment effect estimation from observational data. In particular, she has developed methods capable of estimating the heterogeneous effects of time-dependent treatments, thus enabling us to determine when to give treatments to patients and how to select among multiple treatments over time.

Recently, Ioana has started working on methods for understanding and modelling clinical decision making through causality, inverse reinforcement learning and imitation learning.

Ahmed Alaa

Ahmed M. Alaa is a Postdoctoral Scholar at the ECE Department, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and an affiliated Postdoctoral Researcher at the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, University of Cambridge.

His primary research focus has been on causal inference, automated machine learning, uncertainty quantification and time-series analysis.

He has published papers in several leading machine learning conferences including NeurIPS, ICML, ICLR and AISTATS.

Mihaela van der Schaar

Mihaela van der Schaar is the John Humphrey Plummer Professor of Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence and Medicine at the University of Cambridge, a Fellow at The Alan Turing Institute in London, and a Chancellor’s Professor at UCLA.

Mihaela has received numerous awards, including the Oon Prize on Preventative Medicine from the University of Cambridge (2018), a National Science Foundation CAREER Award (2004), 3 IBM Faculty Awards, the IBM Exploratory Stream Analytics Innovation Award, the Philips Make a Difference Award and several best paper awards, including the IEEE Darlington Award.

In 2019, she was identified by National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts as the most-cited female AI researcher in the UK. She was also elected as a 2019 “Star in Computer Networking and Communications” by N²Women. Her research expertise span signal and image processing, communication networks, network science, multimedia, game theory, distributed systems, machine learning and AI.

Mihaela’s research focus is on machine learning, AI and operations research for healthcare and medicine.

Nick Maxfield

Nick oversees the van der Schaar Lab’s communications, including media relations, content creation, and maintenance of the lab’s online presence.

Nick studied Japanese (BA Hons.) at the University of Oxford, graduating in 2012. Nick previously worked in HQ communications roles at Toyota (2013-2016) and Nissan (2016-2020).

Given his humanities/languages background and experience in communications, Nick is well-positioned to highlight and explain the real-world impact of research that can often be quite esoteric. Thankfully, he is comfortable asking almost endless questions in order to understand a topic.