Machine learning automatically detects COVID-19 using chest CTs in a large multicenter cohort

Eduardo J Mortani Barbosa, Bogdan Georgescu, Shikha Chaganti, Gorka Bastarrika Aleman, Jordi Broncano Cabrero, Guillaume Chabin, Thomas Flohr, Philippe Grenier, Sasa Grbic, Nakul Gupta, François Mellot, Savvas Nicolaou, Thomas Re, Pina Sanelli, Alexander W Sauter, Youngjin Yoo, Valentin Ziebandt, Dorin Comaniciu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


OBJECTIVES: To investigate machine learning classifiers and interpretable models using chest CT for detection of COVID-19 and differentiation from other pneumonias, interstitial lung disease (ILD) and normal CTs.

METHODS: Our retrospective multi-institutional study obtained 2446 chest CTs from 16 institutions (including 1161 COVID-19 patients). Training/validation/testing cohorts included 1011/50/100 COVID-19, 388/16/33 ILD, 189/16/33 other pneumonias, and 559/17/34 normal (no pathologies) CTs. A metric-based approach for the classification of COVID-19 used interpretable features, relying on logistic regression and random forests. A deep learning-based classifier differentiated COVID-19 via 3D features extracted directly from CT attenuation and probability distribution of airspace opacities.

RESULTS: Most discriminative features of COVID-19 are the percentage of airspace opacity and peripheral and basal predominant opacities, concordant with the typical characterization of COVID-19 in the literature. Unsupervised hierarchical clustering compares feature distribution across COVID-19 and control cohorts. The metrics-based classifier achieved AUC = 0.83, sensitivity = 0.74, and specificity = 0.79 versus respectively 0.93, 0.90, and 0.83 for the DL-based classifier. Most of ambiguity comes from non-COVID-19 pneumonia with manifestations that overlap with COVID-19, as well as mild COVID-19 cases. Non-COVID-19 classification performance is 91% for ILD, 64% for other pneumonias, and 94% for no pathologies, which demonstrates the robustness of our method against different compositions of control groups.

CONCLUSIONS: Our new method accurately discriminates COVID-19 from other types of pneumonia, ILD, and CTs with no pathologies, using quantitative imaging features derived from chest CT, while balancing interpretability of results and classification performance and, therefore, may be useful to facilitate diagnosis of COVID-19.

KEY POINTS: • Unsupervised clustering reveals the key tomographic features including percent airspace opacity and peripheral and basal opacities most typical of COVID-19 relative to control groups. • COVID-19-positive CTs were compared with COVID-19-negative chest CTs (including a balanced distribution of non-COVID-19 pneumonia, ILD, and no pathologies). Classification accuracies for COVID-19, pneumonia, ILD, and CT scans with no pathologies are respectively 90%, 64%, 91%, and 94%. • Our deep learning (DL)-based classification method demonstrates an AUC of 0.93 (sensitivity 90%, specificity 83%). Machine learning methods applied to quantitative chest CT metrics can therefore improve diagnostic accuracy in suspected COVID-19, particularly in resource-constrained environments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8775-8785
Number of pages11
JournalEuropean Radiology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2021


  • COVID-19
  • Humans
  • Machine Learning
  • Retrospective Studies
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Thorax


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