Scientist versus Complex Mathematical Model: Ion-channel story continues…

If you are a follower of these blog-posts then you may have seen a theme around complexity versus simplicity for a specific prediction problem relating to drug induced ion-channel cardiac toxicity.  See here for an article on the matter. In this blog-post we will discuss a short pilot project which was aimed at gaining an initial understanding on whether the scientists being sold complex models of the heart really need them.

The project itself was motivated by the observation that the input-output behaviour of this particular problem is linear and involves a small number of variables. However, modellers who enjoy complexity and whom are aware of the linear solution continue to publish on complex models.  A recent example involves the use of a population of models, see here, by researchers from Oxford University. If you were to take that data and simply use the linear model we’ve described before you will find that it produces just as good a result, see code and data here. Back to the main topic of this blog-post, if the mechanism is linear do you need a model?

In order to answer this question, it would have been great to have had a prospective data-set on a set of new drugs and compared the predictions of model versus scientist.  However, this is not possible for one key reason.  The community advocating the complex model are also responsible for classifying compounds into one of three categories. Without details of how this classification is done it’s not possible to apply it to any other compounds.  Therefore, the only option was to assess whether there is a correlation between scientist and model.

The pilot study conducted involved generating a set of drugs that covered the pharmacological space of interest.  Scientists were asked to classify the drug into one of 3 categories and then a simple correlation assessment was made between each scientist and the model. We found that all but one scientist correlated strongly with the complex model.  This suggests the complex model is not adding information above and beyond what the scientist already knows. If you are interested in the details then take a look at the article here.

Hopefully the next time the cardiac modelling community perform a model evaluation exercise they will consider assessing the scientists predictions too.  Wouldn’t it be interesting to know whether a model really is needed here given the huge amount of public investment made so far, regardless of the complexity?