Complex Mixtures, Complex Analyses: an Emphasis on Interpretable Results

Abstract

Purpose of Review

The purpose of this review is to outline the main questions in environmental mixtures research and provide a non-technical explanation of novel or advanced methods to answer these questions.

Recent Findings

Machine learning techniques are now being incorporated into environmental mixture research to overcome issues with traditional methods. Though some methods perform well on specific tasks, no method consistently outperforms all others in complex mixture analyses, largely because different methods were developed to answer different research questions. We discuss four main questions in environmental mixtures research: (1) Are there specific exposure patterns in the study population? (2) Which are the toxic agents in the mixture? (3) Are mixture members acting synergistically? And, (4) what is the overall effect of the mixture?

Summary

We emphasize the importance of robust methods and interpretable results over predictive accuracy. We encourage collaboration with computer scientists, data scientists, and biostatisticians in future mixture method development.

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Funding

This work was supported by NIEHS F31 ES030263, T32 ES007322, P30 ES009089, and R01 ES028805.

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Correspondence to Marianthi-Anna Kioumourtzoglou.

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Elizabeth A. Gibson, Jeff Goldsmith, and Marianthi-Anna Kioumourtzoglou declare that they have received grants from the NIEHS during this study.

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Gibson, E.A., Goldsmith, J. & Kioumourtzoglou, M. Complex Mixtures, Complex Analyses: an Emphasis on Interpretable Results. Curr Envir Health Rpt 6, 53–61 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40572-019-00229-5

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Keywords

  • Environmental mixtures
  • Multi-pollutant
  • Dimension reduction
  • Variable selection
  • Bayesian statistics