Use of genetic algorithms for neural networks to predict community-acquired pneumonia

Paul S. Heckerling, Ben S. Gerber, Thomas G. Tape, Robert S. Wigton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


Background: Genetic algorithms have been used to solve optimization problems for artificial neural networks (ANN) in several domains. We used genetic algorithms to search for optimal hidden-layer architectures, connectivity, and training parameters for ANN for predicting community-acquired pneumonia among patients with respiratory complaints. Methods: Feed-forward back-propagation ANN were trained on sociodemographic, symptom, sign, comorbidity, and radiographic outcome data among 1044 patients from the University of Illinois (the training cohort), and were applied to 116 patients from the University of Nebraska (the testing cohort). Binary chromosomes with genes representing network attributes, including the number of nodes in the hidden layers, learning rate and momentum parameters, and the presence or absence of implicit within-layer connectivity using a competition algorithm, were operated on by various combinations of crossover, mutation, and probabilistic selection based on network mean-square error (MSE), and separately on average cross entropy (ENT). Predictive accuracy was measured as the area under a receiver-operating characteristic (ROC) curve. Results: Over 50 generations, the baseline genetic algorithm evolved an optimized ANN with nine nodes in the first hidden layer, zero nodes in the second hidden layer, learning rate and momentum parameters of 0.5, and no within-layer competition connectivity. This ANN had an ROC area in the training cohort of 0.872 and in the testing cohort of 0.934 (P-value for difference, 0.181). Algorithms based on cross-generational selection, Gray coding of genes prior to mutation, and crossover recombination at different genetic levels, evolved optimized ANN identical to the baseline genetic strategy. Algorithms based on other strategies, including elite selection within generations (training ROC area 0.819), and inversions of genetic material during recombination (training ROC area 0.812), evolved less accurate ANN. Conclusion: ANN optimized by genetic algorithms accurately discriminated pneumonia within a training cohort, and within a testing cohort consisting of cases on which the networks had not been trained. Genetic algorithms can be used to implement efficient search strategies for optimal ANN to predict pneumonia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)71-84
Number of pages14
JournalArtificial Intelligence in Medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2004


  • Artificial neural network
  • Genetic algorithm
  • Pneumonia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Artificial Intelligence

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