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In Annals of epidemiology ; h5-index 39.0

PURPOSE : Machine learning is an attractive tool for identifying heterogeneous treatment effects (HTE) of interventions but generalizability of machine learning derived HTE remains unclear. We examined generalizability of HTE detected using causal forests in two similarly designed randomized trials in type 2 diabetes patients.

METHODS : We evaluated published HTE of intensive versus standard glycemic control on all-cause mortality from the Action to Control Cardiovascular Risk in Diabetes study (ACCORD) in a second trial, the Veterans Affairs Diabetes Trial (VADT). We then applied causal forests to VADT, ACCORD, and pooled data from both studies and compared variable importance and subgroup effects across samples.

RESULTS : HTE in ACCORD did not replicate in similar subgroups in VADT, but variable importance was correlated between VADT and ACCORD (Kendall's tau-b 0.75). Applying causal forests to pooled individual-level data yielded seven subgroups with similar HTE across both studies, ranging from risk difference of all-cause mortality of -3.9% (95% CI -7.0, -0.8) to 4.7% (95% CI 1.8, 7.5).

CONCLUSION : Machine learning detection of HTE subgroups from randomized trials may not generalize across study samples even when variable importance is correlated. Pooling individual-level data may overcome differences in study populations and/or differences in interventions that limit HTE generalizability.

Raghavan Sridharan, Josey Kevin, Bahn Gideon, Reda Domenic, Basu Sanjay, Berkowitz Seth A, Emanuele Nicholas, Reaven Peter, Ghosh Debashis


causal forests, generalizability, glycemic control, heterogeneous treatment effects