International research team that developed swarm learning believe it could ‘significantly promote and accelerate collaboration and information exchange in research, especially in the field of medicine’
“Swarm Learning” is a technology that enables cross-site analysis of population health data while maintaining patient privacy protocols to generate improvements in precision medicine. That’s the goal described by an international team of scientists who used this approach to develop artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms that seek out and identify lung disease, blood cancer, and COVID-19 data stored in disparate databases.
Since 80% of patient records feature clinical laboratory test results, there’s no doubt this protected health information (PHI) would be curated by the swarm learning algorithms.
Researchers with DZNE (German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases), the University of Bonn, and Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) who developed the swarm learning algorithms published their findings in the journal Nature, titled, “Swarm Learning for Decentralized and Confidential Clinical Machine Learning.”
In their study they wrote, “Fast and reliable detection of patients with severe and heterogeneous illnesses is a major goal of precision medicine. … However, there is an increasing divide between what is technically possible and what is allowed, because of privacy legislation. Here, to facilitate the integration of any medical data from any data owner worldwide without violating privacy laws, we introduce Swarm Learning—a decentralized machine-learning approach that unites edge computing, blockchain-based peer-to-peer networking, and coordination while maintaining confidentiality without the need for a central coordinator, thereby going beyond federated learning.”
What is Swarm Learning?
Swarm Learning is a way to collaborate and share medical research toward a goal of advancing precision medicine, the researchers stated.
The technology blends AI with blockchain-based peer-to-peer networking to create information exchange across a network, the DZNE news release explained. The machine learning algorithms are “trained” to detect data patterns “and recognize the learned patterns in other data as well,” the news release noted.
Since, as Dark Daily has reported many times, clinical laboratory test data comprises as much as 80% of patients’ medical records, such a treasure trove of information will most likely include medical laboratory test data as well as reports on patient diagnoses, demographics, and medical history. Swarm learning incorporating laboratory test results may inform medical researchers in their population health analyses.
“The key is that all participants can learn from each other without the need of sharing confidential information,” said Eng Lim Goh, PhD, Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer for AI at Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), which developed base technology for swarm learning, according to the news release.
An HPE blog post notes that “Using swarm learning, the hospital can combine its data with that of hospitals serving different demographics in other regions and then use a private blockchain to learn from a global average, or parameter, of results—without sharing actual patient information.
“Under this model,” the blog continues, “‘each hospital is able to predict, with accuracy and with reduced bias, as though [it has] collected all the patient data globally in one place and learned from it,’ Goh says.”
Swarm Learning Applied in Study
The researchers studied four infectious and non-infectious diseases:
They used 16,400 transcriptomes from 127 clinical studies and assessed 95,000 X-ray images.
- Data for transcriptomes were distributed over three to 32 blockchain nodes and across three nodes for X-rays.
- The researchers “fed their algorithms with subsets of the respective data set” (such as those coming from people with disease versus healthy individuals), the news release noted.
- 90% algorithm accuracy in reporting on healthy people versus those diagnosed with diseases for transcriptomes.
- 76% to 86% algorithm accuracy in reporting of X-ray data.
- Methodology worked best for leukemia.
- Accuracy also was “very high” for tuberculosis and COVID-19.
- X-ray data accuracy rate was lower, researchers said, due to less available data or image quality.
“Our study thus proves that swarm learning can be successfully applied to very different data. In principle, this applies to any type of information for which pattern recognition by means of artificial intelligence is useful. Be it genome data, X-ray images, data from brain imaging, or other complex data,” Schultze said in the DZNE news release.
Is Swarm Learning Coming to Your Lab?
The scientists say hospitals as well as research institutions may join or form swarms. So, hospital-based medical laboratory leaders and pathology groups may have an opportunity to contribute to swarm learning. According to Schultze, sharing information can go a long way toward “making the wealth of experience in medicine more accessible worldwide.”
—Donna Marie Pocius