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Winner's Insight: Navigating the Parkinson's Disease Prediction Challenge with AI


By Parul Pandey | minute read | July 03, 2023

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Parkinson’s disease, a condition affecting movement, cognition, and sleep, is escalating rapidly. By 2037, it is projected that around 1.6 million U.S. residents will be confronting this disease, resulting in significant societal and economic challenges. Studies have hinted that disruptions in proteins or peptides could be instrumental in the disease’s onset and progression. Consequently, delving deeper into these biological elements may provide valuable insights, potentially paving the way toward halting disease progression or even finding a cure.

Recently, the Accelerating Medicines Partnership® Parkinson’s Disease (AMP®PD) organised a Kaggle competition with the goal of using the power of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to predict the progression of Parkinson’s disease.

Participants were assigned the mission of utilizing protein and peptide data from Parkinson’s patients to project disease progression, which could potentially spotlight pivotal molecules undergoing change as the disease evolves. This competition forms part of a larger AMP®PD initiative, a cooperative endeavor across various sectors, to identify and validate critical biomarkers for Parkinson’s, bolstering the global fight against this debilitating neurological disorder.

The Competition

As stated above, the competition’s objective was to predict the progression of Parkinson’s disease(PD) using data on protein abundance. More specifically, the participants had to predict MDS-UPDR scores, which indicate the progression of Parkinson’s disease in patients. MDS-UPDRS is a scale used to evaluate various symptoms, including both movement-related and non-movement-related symptoms, that are associated with Parkinson’s disease.

The dataset was primarily composed of protein abundance levels obtained from mass spectrometry readings of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) samples collected from hundreds of patients over several years. This competition was unique in that it was a time-series code contest, where predictions were made using Kaggle’s time-series API on provided test set data. The data used in the competition was organized as follows:

A Notable Win: Overcoming Complexities

Against this challenging backdrop, Dmitry Gordeev, a Kaggle Competition Grandmaster and Director of Data Science & Product at collaborated with Konstantin Yakovlev, Head of Data Science at Palta, to clinch a remarkable win in this competition.

Dmitry’s and Konstantin’s final solution involved combining two models — a LightGBM model(LGBM) and a Neural Network (NN), by taking a simple average. These models were trained on the same set of features, including visit month, forecast horizon, target prediction month, and indicators related to patient visits and supplementary data. Interestingly, the winning solution disregarded the results of blood tests as none of their approaches or models could find significant signals in that data. Instead, the final models were trained using only the clinical and supplementary datasets.

For the LGBM, they took an alternative approach by treating it as a classification model with 87 target classes. Post-processing techniques were applied to minimize the SMAPE+1 metric.

SMAPE+1 serves as a metric in machine learning that gauges prediction accuracy. It stands for Symmetric Mean Absolute Percentage Error and calculates the percentage difference between predicted and actual values. The “+1” adjustment in SMAPE+1 prevents division by zero when the actual value is zero. A lower SMAPE+1 score signifies more accurate predictions, while a higher score indicates a greater deviation between predicted and actual values.

On the other hand, the NN model utilized a simple multi-layer feed-forward architecture with a regression target and used SMAPE+1 as the loss function. They incorporated a leaky RELU activation in the last layer to handle negative predictions.

The leaky RELU is an improvement over the standard ReLU activation function that allows some small negative values to pass through instead of completely setting them to zero, which helps the model handle negative predictions more effectively. Leaky ReLU is useful when negative values contain important information for the task being performed.

Various cross-validation schemes were explored, and they settled on leave-one-(patient)-out cross-validation — a group k-fold cross-validation with a fold for each patient. This helped to eliminate dependence on random numbers.

Cross-validation is a technique used to assess how well a model generalizes to unseen data.

The full code of the winning notebook can be found here, while an elaborate solution provided by the team can be found here.

AI for Good: Impact Beyond the Competition

While the primary objective of the competition was to discover molecular indicators of Parkinson’s disease progression, the winning solution shed light on the limitations of traditional blood tests in providing the necessary information. Nonetheless, this valuable insight suggests the need for either refining the current approach or exploring alternative setups that can uncover subtle yet significant markers of disease progression.

We are immensely proud of our colleague for his achievement and commitment to making a difference reminding us that our mission of using AI for Good is not only noble but absolutely achievable.

Stay tuned for more inspiring stories from our AI for Good initiative as we continue this exciting journey of discovery and impact.


Parul Pandey

Parul focuses on the intersection of, data science and community. She works as a Principal Data Scientist and is also a Kaggle Grandmaster in the Notebooks category.