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In Cancers

BACKGROUND : Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pneumonia and immune checkpoint inhibitor (ICI) therapy-related pneumonitis share common features. The aim of this study was to determine on chest computed tomography (CT) images whether a deep convolutional neural network algorithm is able to solve the challenge of differential diagnosis between COVID-19 pneumonia and ICI therapy-related pneumonitis.

METHODS : We enrolled three groups: a pneumonia-free group (n = 30), a COVID-19 group (n = 34), and a group of patients with ICI therapy-related pneumonitis (n = 21). Computed tomography images were analyzed with an artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm based on a deep convolutional neural network structure. Statistical analysis included the Mann-Whitney U test (significance threshold at p < 0.05) and the receiver operating characteristic curve (ROC curve).

RESULTS : The algorithm showed low specificity in distinguishing COVID-19 from ICI therapy-related pneumonitis (sensitivity 97.1%, specificity 14.3%, area under the curve (AUC) = 0.62). ICI therapy-related pneumonitis was identified by the AI when compared to pneumonia-free controls (sensitivity = 85.7%, specificity 100%, AUC = 0.97).

CONCLUSIONS : The deep learning algorithm is not able to distinguish between COVID-19 pneumonia and ICI therapy-related pneumonitis. Awareness must be increased among clinicians about imaging similarities between COVID-19 and ICI therapy-related pneumonitis. ICI therapy-related pneumonitis can be applied as a challenge population for cross-validation to test the robustness of AI models used to analyze interstitial pneumonias of variable etiology.

Mallio Carlo Augusto, Napolitano Andrea, Castiello Gennaro, Giordano Francesco Maria, D’Alessio Pasquale, Iozzino Mario, Sun Yipeng, Angeletti Silvia, Russano Marco, Santini Daniele, Tonini Giuseppe, Zobel Bruno Beomonte, Vincenzi Bruno, Quattrocchi Carlo Cosimo


COVID-19, artificial intelligence, chest CT, deep learning, drug-induced pneumonitis, immune checkpoint inhibitors therapy