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In Frontiers in physiology

Analysis of pulmonary function tests (PFTs) is an area where machine learning (ML) may benefit clinicians, researchers, and the patients. PFT measures spirometry, lung volumes, and carbon monoxide diffusion capacity of the lung (DLCO). The results are usually interpreted by the clinicians using discrete numeric data according to published guidelines. PFT interpretations by clinicians, however, are known to have inter-rater variability and the inaccuracy can impact patient care. This variability may be caused by unfamiliarity of the guidelines, lack of training, inadequate understanding of lung physiology, or simply mental lapses. A rules-based automated interpretation system can recapitulate expert's pattern recognition capability and decrease errors. ML can also be used to analyze continuous data or the graphics, including the flow-volume loop, the DLCO and the nitrogen washout curves. These analyses can discover novel physiological biomarkers. In the era of wearables and telehealth, particularly with the COVID-19 pandemic restricting PFTs to be done in the clinical laboratories, ML can also be used to combine mobile spirometry results with an individual's clinical profile to deliver precision medicine. There are, however, hurdles in the development and commercialization of the ML-assisted PFT interpretation programs, including the need for high quality representative data, the existence of different formats for data acquisition and sharing in PFT software by different vendors, and the need for collaboration amongst clinicians, biomedical engineers, and information technologists. Hurdles notwithstanding, the new developments would represent significant advances that could be the future of PFT, the oldest test still in use in clinical medicine.

Giri Paresh C, Chowdhury Anand M, Bedoya Armando, Chen Hengji, Lee Hyun Suk, Lee Patty, Henriquez Craig, MacIntyre Neil R, Huang Yuh-Chin T


DLCO, artificial intelligence, flow-volume loop, lung volumes, machine learning, pulmonary function test, spirometry