Advancing COVID-19 diagnosis with privacy-preserving collaboration in artificial intelligence

Xiang Bai, Hanchen Wang, Liya Ma, Yongchao Xu, Jiefeng Gan, Ziwei Fan, Fan Yang, Ke Ma, Jiehua Yang, Song Bai, Chang Shu, Xinyu Zou, Renhao Huang, Changzheng Zhang, Xiaowu Liu, Dandan Tu, Chuou Xu, Wenqing Zhang, Xi Wang, Anguo ChenYu Zeng, Dehua Yang, Ming Wei Wang, Nagaraj Holalkere, Neil J. Halin, Ihab R. Kamel, Jia Wu, Xuehua Peng, Xiang Wang, Jianbo Shao, Pattanasak Mongkolwat, Jianjun Zhang, Weiyang Liu, Michael Roberts, Zhongzhao Teng, Lucian Beer, Lorena E. Sanchez, Evis Sala, Daniel L. Rubin, Adrian Weller, Joan Lasenby, Chuangsheng Zheng, Jianming Wang, Zhen Li, Carola Schönlieb, Tian Xia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Artificial intelligence provides a promising solution for streamlining COVID-19 diagnoses; however, concerns surrounding security and trustworthiness impede the collection of large-scale representative medical data, posing a considerable challenge for training a well-generalized model in clinical practices. To address this, we launch the Unified CT-COVID AI Diagnostic Initiative (UCADI), where the artificial intelligence (AI) model can be distributedly trained and independently executed at each host institution under a federated learning framework without data sharing. Here we show that our federated learning framework model considerably outperformed all of the local models (with a test sensitivity/specificity of 0.973/0.951 in China and 0.730/0.942 in the United Kingdom), achieving comparable performance with a panel of professional radiologists. We further evaluated the model on the hold-out (collected from another two hospitals without the federated learning framework) and heterogeneous (acquired with contrast materials) data, provided visual explanations for decisions made by the model, and analysed the trade-offs between the model performance and the communication costs in the federated training process. Our study is based on 9,573 chest computed tomography scans from 3,336 patients collected from 23 hospitals located in China and the United Kingdom. Collectively, our work advanced the prospects of utilizing federated learning for privacy-preserving AI in digital health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1081-1089
Number of pages9
JournalNature Machine Intelligence
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition
  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Artificial Intelligence


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