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The pathogenic mutation p.Arg14del in the gene encoding Phospholamban (PLN) is known to cause cardiomyopathy and leads to increased risk of sudden cardiac death. Automatic tools might improve the detection of patients with this rare disease. Deep learning is currently the state-of-the-art in signal processing but requires large amounts of data to train the algorithms. In situations with relatively small amounts of data, like PLN, transfer learning may improve accuracy. We propose an ECG-based detection of the PLN mutation using transfer learning from a model originally trained for sex identification. The sex identification model was trained with 256,278 ECGs and subsequently finetuned for PLN detection (155 ECGs of patients with PLN) with two control groups: a balanced age/sex matched group and a randomly selected imbalanced population. The data was split in 10 folds and 20% of the training data was used for validation and early stopping. The models were evaluated with the area under the receiver operating characteristic curve (AUROC) of the testing data. We used gradient activation for explanation of the prediction models. The models trained with transfer learning outperformed the models trained from scratch for both the balanced (AUROC 0.87 vs AUROC 0.71) and imbalanced (AUROC 0.0.90 vs AUROC 0.65) population. The proposed approach was able to improve the accuracy of a rare disease detection model by transfer learning information from a non-manual annotated and abundant label with only limited data available. Copyright © 2021 The Author(s). Published by Elsevier Ltd.. All rights reserved.


Ricardo R Lopes, Hidde Bleijendaal, Lucas A Ramos, Tom E Verstraelen, Ahmad S Amin, Arthur A M Wilde, Yigal M Pinto, Bas A J M de Mol, Henk A Marquering. Improving electrocardiogram-based detection of rare genetic heart disease using transfer learning: An application to phospholamban p.Arg14del mutation carriers. Computers in biology and medicine. 2021 Apr;131:104262

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PMID: 33607378

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