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1.  The impact of Regional co-payment and National reimbursement criteria on statins use in Italy: an interrupted time-series analysis 
Statins are among the most commonly prescribed drugs worldwide in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases and their effectiveness is largely acknowledged. The consumption of statins increased four-fold during the 2000–2010 decade in Italy and national and regional control policies were developed. Restrictions to reimbursement were fixed at the national level, whereas co-payment was introduced in some, but not all, regions. The aim of the present study is to assess the impact of such policies on the consumption of statins in Italy between 2001–2007 among outpatients.
The statin use was measured in terms of defined daily doses per 1,000 inhabitants per day (DDD/1000 inh. day) from May 2001 to December 2007. The study was conducted in 17 out of 21 regions, nine of which had implemented a co-payment policy. Time trends in consumption before and after the introduction of co-payment policies and reimbursement criteria were examined using segmented regression analysis of interrupted time-series, adjusting for seasonal components.
The consumption of statins increased by 22.9 DDD/1000 inh. day in May 2001 to 54.7 DDD/1000 inh. day in December 2007. On average, there was a 1.7% increase in statin use each month before the national guideline changed while the increase was about 0.5% afterwards. The revision of the reimbursement criteria was associated with a significant decrease in level (coefficient = −2.80, 95% CI −3.70 to −1.90 p-value <0.001) and trend (coefficient = −0.33, 95% CI −0.37 to −0.29 p-value <0.001). The introduction of co-payment was associated with a significant change in trend of consumption so that the overall use of the drug increased by 0.04 (95% CI 0.02 to 0.07, p-value < 0.001) DDD/1000 inh. day per month in the post-intervention period, but there was no evidence of a change in level of consumption (p-value = 0.163).
Consumption of statins in Italy increased almost three-fold during the study period. The restriction to reimbursement Interventions was associated with an immediate drop and a decrease in trend of statin use, while the regional copayment was associated with a small increase in trend of statin use.
PMCID: PMC3893493  PMID: 24393340
Interrupted time-series; Statin use; Pharmaceutical policy; Italy
2.  Risk of Guillain-Barré syndrome after 2010–2011 influenza vaccination 
European Journal of Epidemiology  2013;28(5):433-444.
Influenza vaccination has been implicated in Guillain Barré Syndrome (GBS) although the evidence for this link is controversial. A case–control study was conducted between October 2010 and May 2011 in seven Italian Regions to explore the relation between influenza vaccination and GBS. The study included 176 GBS incident cases aged ≥18 years from 86 neurological centers. Controls were selected among patients admitted for acute conditions to the Emergency Department of the same hospital as cases. Each control was matched to a case by sex, age, Region and admission date. Two different analyses were conducted: a matched case–control analysis and a self-controlled case series analysis (SCCS). Case–control analysis included 140 cases matched to 308 controls. The adjusted matched odds ratio (OR) for GBS occurrence within 6 weeks after influenza vaccination was 3.8 (95 % CI: 1.3, 10.5). A much stronger association with gastrointestinal infections (OR = 23.8; 95 % CI 7.3, 77.6) and influenza-like illness or upper respiratory tract infections (OR = 11.5; 95 % CI 5.6, 23.5) was highlighted. The SCCS analysis included all 176 GBS cases. Influenza vaccination was associated with GBS, with a relative risk of 2.1 (95 % CI 1.1, 3.9). According to these results the attributable risk in adults ranges from two to five GBS cases per 1,000,000 vaccinations.
PMCID: PMC3672511  PMID: 23543123
Influenza vaccination; Guillain-Barrè Syndrome; Case–control study; Self controlled case series
3.  Huangqi Injection (a Traditional Chinese Patent Medicine) for Chronic Heart Failure: A Systematic Review 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(5):e19604.
Chronic heart failure (CHF) is a global public health problem. Therefore, novel and effective drugs that show few side-effects are needed. Early literature studies indicated that Huangqi injection is one of the most commonly used traditional Chinese patent medicines for CHF in China. As a large number of clinical studies has been carried out and published, it is essential to evaluate the effectiveness and safety of Huangqi injection. Therefore, we carried out this systematic review under the support of the framework of the Joint Sino-Italian Laboratory (JoSIL).
To evaluate the efficacy and safety of Huangqi injection for CHF according to the available scientific knowledge.
An extensive search including PubMed, EMBASE, CBM, the Cochrane Library and Chinese literature databases was performed up to July 2008. Clinical trials regarding Huangqi injection for the treatment of CHF were searched for, irrespective of languages. The quality of each trial was assessed according to the Cochrane Reviewers' Handbook 5.0, and RevMan 5.0 provided by the Cochrane Collaboration and STATA 9.2 were used for data analysis.
After selection of 1,205 articles, 62 RCTs and quasi-RCTs conducted in China and published in Chinese journals were included in the review. The methodological quality of the trials was low. In most trials inclusion and exclusion criteria were not specified. Furthermore, only one study evaluated the outcomes for drug efficacy after an adequate period of time. For these reasons and because of the different baseline characteristics we did not conduct a meta-analysis.
Although available studies are not adequate to draw a conclusion on the efficacy and safety of Huangqi injection (a traditional Chinese patent medicine), we hope that our work could provide useful experience on further studies on Huangqi injections. The overall level of TCM clinical research needs to be improved so that the efficacy of TCM can be evaluated by the international community and possibly some TCM can enter into the international market.
PMCID: PMC3089614  PMID: 21573109
4.  Sudden Unexpected Deaths and Vaccinations during the First Two Years of Life in Italy: A Case Series Study 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(1):e16363.
The signal of an association between vaccination in the second year of life with a hexavalent vaccine and sudden unexpected deaths (SUD) in the two days following vaccination was reported in Germany in 2003. A study to establish whether the immunisation with hexavalent vaccines increased the short term risk of SUD in infants was conducted in Italy.
Methodology/Principal Findings
The reference population comprises around 3 million infants vaccinated in Italy in the study period 1999–2004 (1.5 million received hexavalent vaccines). Events of SUD in infants aged 1–23 months were identified through the death certificates. Vaccination history was retrieved from immunisation registries. Association between immunisation and death was assessed adopting a case series design focusing on the risk periods 0–1, 0–7, and 0–14 days after immunisation. Among the 604 infants who died of SUD, 244 (40%) had received at least one vaccination. Four deaths occurred within two days from vaccination with the hexavalent vaccines (RR = 1.5; 95% CI 0.6 to 4.2). The RRs for the risk periods 0–7 and 0–14 were 2.0 (95% CI 1.2 to 3.5) and 1.5 (95% CI 0.9 to 2.4). The increased risk was limited to the first dose (RR = 2.2; 95% CI 1.1 to 4.4), whereas no increase was observed for the second and third doses combined.
The RRs of SUD for any vaccines and any risk periods, even when greater than 1, were almost an order of magnitude lower than the estimates in Germany. The limited increase in RRs found in Italy appears confined to the first dose and may be partly explained by a residual uncontrolled confounding effect of age.
PMCID: PMC3027668  PMID: 21298113
5.  How Are the Interests of Incapacitated Research Participants Protected through Legislation? An Italian Study on Legal Agency for Dementia Patients 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(6):e11150.
Patients with dementia may have limited capacity to give informed consent to participate in clinical research. One possible way to safeguard the patients' interests in research is the involvement of a proxy in the recruitment process. In Italy, the system of proxy is determined by the courts. In this study we evaluate the timing for appointment of a legal proxy in Italy and identify predictive variables of appointment.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Subjects were recruited among the outpatients seeking medical advice for cognitive complaints at the Centre for Research and Treatment of Cognitive Dysfunctions, University of Milan, “Luigi Sacco” Hospital.
The Centre was participating to the AdCare Study, a no-profit randomised clinical trial coordinated by the Italian National Institute of Health. The requirement that informed consent be given by a legal representative dramatically slowed down the recruitment process in AdCare, which was prematurely interrupted. The Centre for Research and Treatment of Cognitive Dysfunctions collected data on the timing required to appoint the legal representatives. Patients diagnosed with dementia and their caregivers were provided information on the Italian law on legal agency (law 6/2004). At each scheduled check-up the caregiver was asked whether she/he had applied to appoint a legal proxy for the patient and the time interval between the presentation of the law, the registration of the application at the law court chancellery and the sentence of appointment was registered. The study involved 169 demented patients. Seventy-eight patients (46.2%) applied to appoint a legal proxy. These subjects were usually younger, had been suffering from dementia for a longer time, had less than two children and made more use of memantine. The mean interval time between the presentation of the law and the patients' application to the law court chancellery was two months. The mean interval time between the patient's application to the law court chancellery and the sentence of appointment was four months.
In Italy the requirement that legal representatives be appointed by the courts slows down subjects' participation in research. Other procedures for legal agency of the incapacitated patients may be adopted, taking as examples other EU countries' systems.
PMCID: PMC2886844  PMID: 20585400
6.  Recurrence of Cardiovascular Events in Patients With Type 2 Diabetes  
Diabetes Care  2008;31(11):2154-2159.
OBJECTIVE—The purpose of this study was to assess incidence of and risk factors for recurrent cardiovascular disease (CVD) in type 2 diabetes.
RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODS—We estimated the incidence of recurrent cardiovascular events in type 2 diabetic patients, aged 40–97 years, followed by a network of diabetes clinics. The analysis was conducted separately for 2,788 patients with CVD at enrollment (cohort A) and for 844 patients developing the first episode during the observation period (cohort B).
RESULTS—During 4 years of follow-up, in cohort A the age-adjusted incidence of a recurrent event (per 1,000 person-years) was 72.7 (95% CI 58.3–87.1) in men and 32.5 (21.2–43.7) in women, whereas in cohort B it was 40.1 (17.4–62.9) in men and 22.4 (12.9–32.0) in women. After controls were included for potential predictors (familial CVD, obesity, smoking, diabetes duration, glycemic control, microvascular complications, geographic area, and antihypertensive and lipid-lowering treatment), male sex, older age, and insulin use were significant independent risk predictors (cohort A) and serum triglyceride levels ≥1.69 mmol/l emerged as the only metabolic (negative) prognostic factor (cohort B). In both cohorts, a prior CVD episode, especially myocardial infarction, was by far the strongest predictor of recurrent CVD.
CONCLUSIONS—Approximately 6% of unselected diabetic patients in secondary prevention develop recurrent major CVD every year. Those with long-standing previous CVD show a higher incidence of recurrence. Male sex, age, high triglyceride levels, and insulin use are additional predictors of recurrence.
PMCID: PMC2571066  PMID: 18782902
7.  Cholinesterase Inhibitors in Mild Cognitive Impairment: A Systematic Review of Randomised Trials 
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(11):e338.
Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) refers to a transitional zone between normal ageing and dementia. Despite the uncertainty regarding the definition of MCI as a clinical entity, clinical trials have been conducted in the attempt to study the role of cholinesterase inhibitors (ChEIs) currently approved for symptomatic treatment of mild to moderate Alzheimer disease (AD), in preventing progression from MCI to AD. The objective of this review is to assess the effects of ChEIs (donepezil, rivastigmine, and galantamine) in delaying the conversion from MCI to Alzheimer disease or dementia.
Methods and Findings
The terms “donepezil”, “rivastigmine”, “galantamine”, and “mild cognitive impairment” and their variants, synonyms, and acronyms were used as search terms in four electronic databases (MEDLINE, EMBASE, Cochrane, PsycINFO) and three registers: the Cochrane Collaboration Trial Register, Current Controlled Trials, and Published and unpublished studies were included if they were randomized clinical trials published (or described) in English and conducted among persons who had received a diagnosis of MCI and/or abnormal memory function documented by a neuropsychological assessment. A standardized data extraction form was used. The reporting quality was assessed using the Jadad scale. Three published and five unpublished trials met the inclusion criteria (three on donepezil, two on rivastigmine, and three on galantamine). Enrolment criteria differed among the trials, so the study populations were not homogeneous. The duration of the trials ranged from 24 wk to 3 y. No significant differences emerged in the probability of conversion from MCI to AD or dementia between the treated groups and the placebo groups. The rate of conversion ranged from 13% (over 2 y) to 25% (over 3 y) among treated patients, and from 18% (over 2 y) to 28% (over 3 y) among those in the placebo groups. Only for two studies was it possible to derive point estimates of the relative risk of conversion: 0.85 (95% confidence interval 0.64–1.12), and 0.84 (0.57–1.25). Statistically significant differences emerged for three secondary end points. However, when adjusting for multiple comparisons, only one difference remained significant (i.e., the rate of atrophy in the whole brain).
The use of ChEIs in MCI was not associated with any delay in the onset of AD or dementia. Moreover, the safety profile showed that the risks associated with ChEIs are not negligible. The uncertainty regarding MCI as a clinical entity raises the question as to the scientific validity of these trials.
A systematic review of trials of cholinesterase inhibitors for preventing transition of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) to dementia, conducted by Roberto Raschetti and colleagues, found no difference between treatment and control groups and concluded that uncertainty regarding the definition of MCI casts doubts on the validity of such trials.
Editors' Summary
Worldwide, more than 24 million people have dementia, a group of brain disorders characterized by an irreversible decline in memory, problem solving, communication, and other “cognitive” functions. The commonest form of dementia is Alzheimer disease (AD). The risk of developing AD increases with age—AD is rare in people younger than 65 but about half of people over 85 years old have it. The earliest symptom of AD is usually difficulty in remembering new information. As the disease progresses, patients may become confused and have problems expressing themselves. Their behavior and personality can also change. In advanced AD, patients need help with daily activities like dressing and eating, and eventually lose their ability to recognize relatives and to communicate. There is no cure for AD but a class of drugs called “cholinesterase inhibitors” can sometimes temporarily slow the worsening of symptoms. Three cholinesterase inhibitors—donepezil, rivastigmine, and galantamine—are currently approved for use in mild-to-moderate AD.
Why Was This Study Done?
Some experts have questioned the efficacy of cholinesterase inhibitors in AD, but other experts and patient support groups have called for these drugs to be given to patients with a condition called mild cognitive impairment (MCI) as well as to those with mild AD. People with MCI have memory problems that are more severe than those normally seen in people of their age but no other symptoms of dementia. They are thought to have an increased risk of developing AD, but it is not known whether everyone with MCI eventually develops AD, and there is no standardized way to diagnose MCI. Despite these uncertainties, several clinical trials have investigated whether cholinesterase inhibitors prevent progression from MCI to AD. In this study, the researchers have assessed whether the results of these trials provide any evidence that cholinesterase inhibitors can prevent MCI progressing to AD.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers conducted a systematic review of the medical literature to find trials that had addressed this issue, which met criteria that they had defined clearly in advance of their search. They identified three published and five unpublished randomized controlled trials (studies in which patients randomly receive the test drug or an inactive placebo) that investigated the effect of cholinesterase inhibitors on the progression of MCI. The researchers obtained the results of six of these trials—four examined the effect of cholinesterase inhibitors on the conversion of MCI to clinically diagnosed AD or dementia (the primary end point); all six examined the effect of the drugs on several secondary end points (for example, individual aspects of cognitive function). None of the drugs produced a statistically significant difference (a difference that is unlikely to have happened by chance) in the probability of progression from MCI to AD. The only statistically significant secondary end point after adjustment for multiple comparisons (when many outcomes are considered, false positive results can occur unless specific mathematical techniques are used to prevent this problem) was a decrease in the rate of brain shrinkage associated with galantamine treatment. More patients treated with cholinesterase inhibitors dropped out of trials because of adverse effects than patients given placebo. Finally, in the one trial that reported all causes of deaths, one participant who received placebo and six who received galantamine died.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that the use of cholinesterase inhibitors is not associated with any delay in the onset of clinically diagnosed AD or dementia in people with MCI. They also show that the use of these drugs has no effect on most surrogate (substitute) indicators of AD but that the risks associated with their use are not negligible. However, because MCI has not yet been clearly defined as a clinical condition that precedes dementia, some (even many) of the patients enrolled into the trials that the researchers assessed may not actually have had MCI. Thus, further clinical trials are needed to clarify whether cholinesterase inhibitors can delay the progression of MCI to dementia, but these additional trials should not be done until the diagnosis of MCI has been standardized.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
An essay by Matthews and colleagues, in the October 2007 issue of PLoS Medicine, discusses how mild cognitive impairment is currently diagnosed
The US Alzheimer's Association provides information about all aspects of Alzheimer disease, including fact sheets on treatments for Alzheimer disease and on mild cognitive impairment
The UK Alzheimer's Society provides information for patients and caregivers on all aspects of dementia, including drug treatments and mild cognitive impairment
The UK charity DIPEx provides short video clips of personal experiences of care givers of people with dementia
PMCID: PMC2082649  PMID: 18044984
8.  Rat models of acute inflammation: a randomized controlled study on the effects of homeopathic remedies 
One of the cardinal principles of homeopathy is the "law of similarities", according to which patients can be treated by administering substances which, when tested in healthy subjects, cause symptoms that are similar to those presented by the patients themselves. Over the last few years, there has been an increase in the number of pre-clinical (in vitro and animal) studies aimed at evaluating the pharmacological activity or efficacy of some homeopathic remedies under potentially reproducible conditions. However, in addition to some contradictory results, these studies have also highlighted a series of methodological difficulties.
The present study was designed to explore the possibility to test in a controlled way the effects of homeopathic remedies on two known experimental models of acute inflammation in the rat. To this aim, the study considered six different remedies indicated by homeopathic practice for this type of symptom in two experimental edema models (carrageenan- and autologous blood-induced edema), using two treatment administration routes (sub-plantar injection and oral administration).
In a first phase, the different remedies were tested in the four experimental conditions, following a single-blind (measurement) procedure. In a second phase, some of the remedies (in the same and in different dilutions) were tested by oral administration in the carrageenan-induced edema, under double-blind (treatment administration and measurement) and fully randomized conditions. Seven-hundred-twenty male Sprague Dawley rats weighing 170–180 g were used. Six homeopathic remedies (Arnica montana D4, Apis mellifica D4, D30, Atropa belladonna D4, Hamamelis virginiana D4, Lachesis D6, D30, Phosphorus D6, D30), saline and indomethacin were tested. Edema was measured using a water-based plethysmometer, before and at different times after edema induction. Data were analyzed by ANOVA and Student t test.
In the first phase of experiments, some statistically significant effects of homeopathic remedies (Apis, Lachesis and Phosporus) were observed (the reduction in paw volume increase ranging from 10% to 28% at different times since edema induction). In the second phase of experiments, the effects of homeopathic remedies were not confirmed. On the contrary, the unblinded standard allopathic drug indomethacin exhibited its anti-inflammatory effect in both experimental phases (the reduction in paw volume increase ranging from 14% to 40% in the first phase, and from 18% to 38% in the second phase of experiments).
The discrepancies between single-blind and double-blind methods in animal pharmacological research are noteworthy and should be better investigated, also in non-homeopathic research.
PMCID: PMC1783669  PMID: 17233886
9.  Cholinesterase Inhibitors: Drugs Looking for a Disease? 
PLoS Medicine  2006;3(4):e140.
Maggini and colleagues examine the evidence on cholinesterase inhibitors for treating dementia. "What seemed a biologically plausible intervention," they say, "has not led to a proven, real improvement in patients' well-being."
PMCID: PMC1434488  PMID: 16597173

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