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Leveraging Structured Biological Knowledge for Counterfactual Inference: a Case Study of Viral Pathogenesis

2021-01-13 15:32:17
Jeremy Zucker, Kaushal Paneri, Sara Mohammad-Taheri, Somya Bhargava, Pallavi Kolambkar, Craig Bakker, Jeremy Teuton, Charles Tapley Hoyt, Kristie Oxford, Robert Ness, Olga Vitek


tract: Counterfactual inference is a useful tool for comparing outcomes of interventions on complex systems. It requires us to represent the system in form of a structural causal model, complete with a causal diagram, probabilistic assumptions on exogenous variables, and functional assignments. Specifying such models can be extremely difficult in practice. The process requires substantial domain expertise, and does not scale easily to large systems, multiple systems, or novel system modifications. At the same time, many application domains, such as molecular biology, are rich in structured causal knowledge that is qualitative in nature. This manuscript proposes a general approach for querying a causal biological knowledge graph, and converting the qualitative result into a quantitative structural causal model that can learn from data to answer the question. We demonstrate the feasibility, accuracy and versatility of this approach using two case studies in systems biology. The first demonstrates the appropriateness of the underlying assumptions and the accuracy of the results. The second demonstrates the versatility of the approach by querying a knowledge base for the molecular determinants of a severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)-induced cytokine storm, and performing counterfactual inference to estimate the causal effect of medical countermeasures for severely ill patients.

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