A random forest model using flow cytometry data identifies pulmonary infection after thoracic injury

Rondi B. Gelbard*, Hannah Hensman, Seth Schobel, Linda Stempora, Eric Gann, Dimitrios Moris, Christopher J. Dente, Timothy G. Buchman, Allan D. Kirk, Eric Elster

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND Thoracic injury can cause impairment of lung function leading to respiratory complications such as pneumonia (PNA). There is increasing evidence that central memory T cells of the adaptive immune system play a key role in pulmonary immunity. We sought to explore whether assessment of cell phenotypes using flow cytometry (FCM) could be used to identify pulmonary infection after thoracic trauma. METHODS We prospectively studied trauma patients with thoracic injuries who survived >48 hours at a Level 1 trauma center from 2014 to 2020. Clinical and FCM data from serum samples collected within 24 hours of admission were considered as potential variables. Random forest and logistic regression models were developed to estimate the risk of hospital-acquired and ventilator-associated PNA. Variables were selected using backwards elimination, and models were internally validated with leave-one-out. RESULTS Seventy patients with thoracic injuries were included (median age, 35 years [interquartile range (IQR), 25.25-51 years]; 62.9% [44 of 70] male, 61.4% [42 of 70] blunt trauma). The most common injuries included rib fractures (52 of 70 [74.3%]) and pulmonary contusions (26 of 70 [37%]). The incidence of PNA was 14 of 70 (20%). Median Injury Severity Score was similar for patients with and without PNA (30.5 [IQR, 22.6-39.3] vs. 26.5 [IQR, 21.6-33.3]). The final random forest model selected three variables (Acute Physiology and Chronic Health Evaluation score, highest pulse rate in first 24 hours, and frequency of CD4+ central memory cells) that identified PNA with an area under the curve of 0.93, sensitivity of 0.91, and specificity of 0.88. A logistic regression with the same features had an area under the curve of 0.86, sensitivity of 0.76, and specificity of 0.85. CONCLUSION Clinical and FCM data have diagnostic utility in the early identification of patients at risk of nosocomial PNA following thoracic injury. Signs of physiologic stress and lower frequency of central memory cells appear to be associated with higher rates of PNA after thoracic trauma. LEVEL OF EVIDENCE Diagnostic Test/Criteria; Level IV.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)39-46
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jul 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • Flow Cytometry
  • Humans
  • Injury Severity Score
  • Lung Injury/complications
  • Male
  • Pneumonia/complications
  • Random Forest
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Thoracic Injuries/complications
  • Wounds, Nonpenetrating/complications


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