A Deep Variational Approach to Clustering Survival Data

Laura Manduchi, Ričards Marcinkevičs, Michela C. Massi, Verena Gotta, Timothy Müller, Flavio Vasella, Marian C. Neidert, Marc Pfister, Julia E. Vogt

Survival analysis has gained significant attention in the medical domain and has many far-reaching applications. Although a variety of machine learning methods have been introduced for tackling time-to-event prediction in unstructured data with complex dependencies, clustering of survival data remains an under-explored problem. The latter is particularly helpful in discovering patient subpopulations whose survival is regulated by different generative mechanisms, a critical problem in precision medicine. To this end, we introduce a novel probabilistic approach to cluster survival data in a variational deep clustering setting. Our proposed method employs a deep generative model to uncover the underlying distribution of both the explanatory variables and the potentially censored survival times. We compare our model to the related work on survival clustering in comprehensive experiments on a range of synthetic, semi-synthetic, and real-world datasets. Our proposed method performs better at identifying clusters and is competitive at predicting survival times in terms of the concordance index and relative absolute error. To further demonstrate the usefulness of our approach, we show that our method identifies meaningful clusters from an observational cohort of hemodialysis patients that are consistent with previous clinical findings.

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