Predicting diabetic retinopathy and identifying interpretable biomedical features using machine learning algorithms

Hsin Yi Tsao, Pei Ying Chan, Emily Chia Yu Su

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

87 Citations (Scopus)


Background: The risk factors of diabetic retinopathy (DR) were investigated extensively in the past studies, but it remains unknown which risk factors were more associated with the DR than others. If we can detect the DR related risk factors more accurately, we can then exercise early prevention strategies for diabetic retinopathy in the most high-risk population. The purpose of this study is to build a prediction model for the DR in type 2 diabetes mellitus using data mining techniques including the support vector machines, decision trees, artificial neural networks, and logistic regressions. Results: Experimental results demonstrated that prediction performance by support vector machines performed better than the other machine learning algorithms and achieved 79.5% and 0.839 in accuracy and area under the receiver operating characteristic curve using percentage split (i.e., data set divided into 80% as trainning and 20% as test), respectively. Evaluated by three-way data split scheme (i.e., data set divided into 60% as training, 20% as validation, and 20% as independent test), our method obtained slightly lower performance compared to percentage split, which suggested that three-way data split is a better way to evaluate the real performance and prevent overestimation. Moreover, we incorporated approaches proposed in previous studies to evaluate our data set and our prediction performance outperformed the other previous studies in most evaluation measures. This lends support to our assumption that appropriate machine learning algorithms combined with discriminative clinical features can effectively detect diabetic retinopathy. Conclusions: Our method identifies use of insulin and duration of diabetes as novel interpretable features to assist with clinical decisions in identifying the high-risk populations for diabetic retinopathy. If duration of DM increases by 1year, the odds ratio to have DMR is increased by 9.3%. The odds ratio to have DR is increased by 3.561 times for patients who use insulin compared to patients who do not use insulin. Our results can be used to facilitate development of clinical decision support systems for clinical practice in the future.

Original languageEnglish
Article number283
JournalBMC Bioinformatics
Publication statusPublished - Aug 13 2018


  • Clinical decision support
  • Diabetic retinopathy
  • Machine learning
  • Risk factors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Structural Biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Applied Mathematics


Dive into the research topics of 'Predicting diabetic retinopathy and identifying interpretable biomedical features using machine learning algorithms'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this