Pathway-Based Deep Clustering for Molecular Subtyping of Cancer

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Cancer is a genetic disease comprising multiple subtypes that have distinct molecular characteristics and clinical features. Cancer subtyping helps in improving personalized treatment and making decision, as different cancer subtypes respond differently to the treatment. The increasing availability of cancer related genomic data provides the opportunity to identify molecular subtypes. Several unsupervised machine learning techniques have been applied on molecular data of the tumor samples to identify cancer subtypes that are genetically and clinically distinct. However, most clustering methods often fail to efficiently cluster patients due to the challenges imposed by high-throughput genomic data and its non-linearity. In this paper, we propose a pathway-based deep clustering method (PACL) for molecular subtyping of cancer, which incorporates gene expression and biological pathway database to group patients into cancer subtypes. The main contribution of our model is to discover high-level representations of biological data by learning complex hierarchical and nonlinear effects of pathways. We compared the performance of our model with a number of benchmark clustering methods that recently have been proposed in cancer subtypes. We assessed the hypothesis that clusters (subtypes) may be associated to different survivals by logrank tests. PACL showed the lowest p-value of the logrank test against the benchmark methods. It demonstrates the patient groups clustered by PACL may correspond to subtypes which are significantly associated with distinct survival distributions. Moreover, PACL provides a solution to comprehensively identify subtypes and interpret the model in the biological pathway level. The open-source software of PACL in PyTorch is publicly available at


Cancer subtyping; Clustering; Pathway based analysis; Ovarian cancer; TCGA


Cancer Biology | Cell and Developmental Biology | Life Sciences | Medical Specialties | Medicine and Health Sciences | Oncology



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