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Open Access Methodology article

Elastic SCAD as a novel penalization method for SVM classification tasks in high-dimensional data

Natalia Becker1*, Grischa Toedt1, Peter Lichter1 and Axel Benner2

Author Affiliations

1 German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), Division Molecular Genetics, INF 280, 69120 Heidelberg, Germany

2 German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), Division Biostatistics, INF 280, 69120 Heidelberg, Germany

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BMC Bioinformatics 2011, 12:138  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-12-138

Published: 9 May 2011



Classification and variable selection play an important role in knowledge discovery in high-dimensional data. Although Support Vector Machine (SVM) algorithms are among the most powerful classification and prediction methods with a wide range of scientific applications, the SVM does not include automatic feature selection and therefore a number of feature selection procedures have been developed. Regularisation approaches extend SVM to a feature selection method in a flexible way using penalty functions like LASSO, SCAD and Elastic Net.

We propose a novel penalty function for SVM classification tasks, Elastic SCAD, a combination of SCAD and ridge penalties which overcomes the limitations of each penalty alone.

Since SVM models are extremely sensitive to the choice of tuning parameters, we adopted an interval search algorithm, which in comparison to a fixed grid search finds rapidly and more precisely a global optimal solution.


Feature selection methods with combined penalties (Elastic Net and Elastic SCAD SVMs) are more robust to a change of the model complexity than methods using single penalties. Our simulation study showed that Elastic SCAD SVM outperformed LASSO (L1) and SCAD SVMs. Moreover, Elastic SCAD SVM provided sparser classifiers in terms of median number of features selected than Elastic Net SVM and often better predicted than Elastic Net in terms of misclassification error.

Finally, we applied the penalization methods described above on four publicly available breast cancer data sets. Elastic SCAD SVM was the only method providing robust classifiers in sparse and non-sparse situations.


The proposed Elastic SCAD SVM algorithm provides the advantages of the SCAD penalty and at the same time avoids sparsity limitations for non-sparse data. We were first to demonstrate that the integration of the interval search algorithm and penalized SVM classification techniques provides fast solutions on the optimization of tuning parameters.

The penalized SVM classification algorithms as well as fixed grid and interval search for finding appropriate tuning parameters were implemented in our freely available R package 'penalizedSVM'.

We conclude that the Elastic SCAD SVM is a flexible and robust tool for classification and feature selection tasks for high-dimensional data such as microarray data sets.