Deep learning for cancer type classification and driver gene identification

Zexian Zeng, Chengsheng Mao, Andy Vo, Xiaoyu Li, Janna Ore Nugent, Seema A. Khan*, Susan E. Clare*, Yuan Luo*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Background: Genetic information is becoming more readily available and is increasingly being used to predict patient cancer types as well as their subtypes. Most classification methods thus far utilize somatic mutations as independent features for classification and are limited by study power. We aim to develop a novel method to effectively explore the landscape of genetic variants, including germline variants, and small insertions and deletions for cancer type prediction. Results: We proposed DeepCues, a deep learning model that utilizes convolutional neural networks to unbiasedly derive features from raw cancer DNA sequencing data for disease classification and relevant gene discovery. Using raw whole-exome sequencing as features, germline variants and somatic mutations, including insertions and deletions, were interactively amalgamated for feature generation and cancer prediction. We applied DeepCues to a dataset from TCGA to classify seven different types of major cancers and obtained an overall accuracy of 77.6%. We compared DeepCues to conventional methods and demonstrated a significant overall improvement (p < 0.001). Strikingly, using DeepCues, the top 20 breast cancer relevant genes we have identified, had a 40% overlap with the top 20 known breast cancer driver genes. Conclusion: Our results support DeepCues as a novel method to improve the representational resolution of DNA sequencings and its power in deriving features from raw sequences for cancer type prediction, as well as discovering new cancer relevant genes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number491
JournalBMC bioinformatics
StatePublished - Oct 2021


  • Cancer
  • Classification
  • Convolutional neural network
  • Germline variants
  • Somatic mutation
  • Whole-exome sequencing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Mathematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Structural Biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Computer Science Applications


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