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1.  Variability in research ethics review of cluster randomized trials: a scenario-based survey in three countries 
Trials  2014;15:48.
Background
Cluster randomized trials (CRTs) present unique ethical challenges. In the absence of a uniform standard for their ethical design and conduct, problems such as variability in procedures and requirements by different research ethics committees will persist. We aimed to assess the need for ethics guidelines for CRTs among research ethics chairs internationally, investigate variability in procedures for research ethics review of CRTs within and among countries, and elicit research ethics chairs’ perspectives on specific ethical issues in CRTs, including the identification of research subjects. The proper identification of research subjects is a necessary requirement in the research ethics review process, to help ensure, on the one hand, that subjects are protected from harm and exploitation, and on the other, that reviews of CRTs are completed efficiently.
Methods
A web-based survey with closed- and open-ended questions was administered to research ethics chairs in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom. The survey presented three scenarios of CRTs involving cluster-level, professional-level, and individual-level interventions. For each scenario, a series of questions was posed with respect to the type of review required (full, expedited, or no review) and the identification of research subjects at cluster and individual levels.
Results
A total of 189 (35%) of 542 chairs responded. Overall, 144 (84%, 95% CI 79 to 90%) agreed or strongly agreed that there is a need for ethics guidelines for CRTs and 158 (92%, 95% CI 88 to 96%) agreed or strongly agreed that research ethics committees could be better informed about distinct ethical issues surrounding CRTs. There was considerable variability among research ethics chairs with respect to the type of review required, as well as the identification of research subjects. The cluster-cluster and professional-cluster scenarios produced the most disagreement.
Conclusions
Research ethics committees identified a clear need for ethics guidelines for CRTs and education about distinct ethical issues in CRTs. There is disagreement among committees, even within the same countries, with respect to key questions in the ethics review of CRTs. This disagreement reflects variability of opinion and practices pointing toward possible gaps in knowledge, and supports the need for explicit guidelines for the ethical conduct and review of CRTs.
doi:10.1186/1745-6215-15-48
PMCID: PMC3925119  PMID: 24495542
Cluster randomized trials; Informed consent; Research ethics guidelines; Research ethics review; Web-based survey
2.  A matched pair cluster randomized implementation trail to measure the effectiveness of an intervention package aiming to decrease perinatal mortality and increase institution-based obstetric care among indigenous women in Guatemala: study protocol 
Background
Maternal and perinatal mortality continue to be a high priority problem on the health agendas of less developed countries. Despite the progress made in the last decade to quantify the magnitude of maternal mortality, few interventions have been implemented with the intent to measure impact directly on maternal or perinatal deaths. The success of interventions implemented in less developed countries to reduce mortality has been questioned, in terms of the tendency to maintain a clinical perspective with a focus on purely medical care separate from community-based approaches that take cultural and social aspects of maternal and perinatal deaths into account. Our innovative approach utilizes both the clinical and community perspectives; moreover, our study will report the weight that each of these components may have had on reducing perinatal mortality and increasing institution-based deliveries.
Methods/Design
A matched pair cluster-randomized trial will be conducted in clinics in four rural indigenous districts with the highest maternal mortality ratios in Guatemala. The individual clinic will serve as the unit of randomization, with 15 matched pairs of control and intervention clinics composing the final sample. Three interventions will be implemented in indigenous, rural and poor populations: a simulation training program for emergency obstetric and perinatal care, increased participation of the professional midwife in strengthening the link between traditional birth attendants (TBA) and the formal health care system, and a social marketing campaign to promote institution-based deliveries. No external intervention is planned for control clinics, although enhanced monitoring, surveillance and data collection will occur throughout the study in all clinics throughout the four districts. All obstetric events occurring in any of the participating health facilities and districts during the 18 months implementation period will be included in the analysis, controlling for the cluster design. Our main outcome measures will be the change in perinatal mortality and in the proportion of institution-based deliveries.
Discussion
A unique feature of this protocol is that we are not proposing an individual intervention, but rather a package of interventions, which is designed to address the complexities and realities of maternal and perinatal mortality in developing countries. To date, many other countries, has focused its efforts to decrease maternal mortality indirectly by improving infrastructure and data collection systems rather than on implementing specific interventions to directly improve outcomes.
Trial registration
ClinicalTrial.gov,http://NCT01653626.
doi:10.1186/1471-2393-13-73
PMCID: PMC3608074  PMID: 23517050
Maternal morbidity; Perinatal mortality; Intervention package; Matched cluster trial; Indigenous
3.  Effectiveness of disseminating consensus management recommendations for ulcer bleeding: a cluster randomized trial 
Background:
International guidelines for the management of nonvariceal upper gastrointestinal bleeding have not been widely adopted in clinical practice. We sought to determine whether a national, multifaceted intervention could improve adherence to guidelines, especially for patients at high risk of nonvariceal upper gastrointestinal bleeding.
Methods:
In this randomized trial, we stratified hospitals by region and size and allocated sites to either the control or experimental group. Health care workers in the experimental group were given published guidelines, generic algorithms, stratification scoring systems and written reminders and attended multidisciplinary guideline education groups and case-based workshops. These interventions were implemented over a 12-month period after randomization, with performance feedback and benchmarking. The primary outcome of adherence rates to key guidelines in endoscopic and pharmacologic management, determined by chart review, was adjusted according to site characteristics and possible within-site dependencies. We also report the rates of adherence to other recommendations.
Results:
Forty-three sites were randomized to the experimental (n = 21) or control (n = 22) groups. In our primary analysis, we compared patients before (experimental group: n = 402 patients; control group: n = 424 patients) and after (experimental group: n = 361 patients; control group: n = 389 patients) intervention. Patient-level analysis revealed no significant difference in adherence rates to the guidelines after the intervention (experimental group: 9.8%; control group: 4.8%; p = 0.99) after adjustment for the rate of adherence before the intervention (experimental group: 13.2%; control group: 7.1%). The adherence rates to other guidelines were similar and decreased over time, varying between 5% and 93%.
Interpretation:
This national knowledge translation–based trial suggests poor adherence to guidelines on nonvariceal upper gastrointestinal bleeding. Adherence was not improved by an educational intervention, which highlights both the complexity and poor predictability of attempting to alter the behaviour of health care providers (Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov, no. MCT-88113).
doi:10.1503/cmaj.120095
PMCID: PMC3576461  PMID: 23318399
4.  Researchers’ perceptions of ethical challenges in cluster randomized trials: a qualitative analysis 
Trials  2013;14:1.
Background
Cluster randomized trials (CRTs) pose ethical challenges for investigators and ethics committees. This study describes the views and experiences of CRT researchers with respect to: (1) ethical challenges in CRTs; (2) the ethics review process for CRTs; and (3) the need for comprehensive ethics guidelines for CRTs.
Methods
Descriptive qualitative analysis of interviews conducted with a purposive sample of 20 experienced CRT researchers.
Results
Informants expressed concern over the potential for bias that may result from requirements to obtain informed consent from research participants in CRTs. Informants suggested that the need for informed consent ought to be related to the type of intervention under study in a CRT. Informants rarely expressed concern regarding risks to research participants in CRTs, other than risks to privacy. Important issues identified in the research ethics literature, including fair subject selection and other justice issues, were not mentioned by informants. The ethics review process has had positive and negative impacts on CRT conduct. Informants stated that variability in ethics review between jurisdictions, and increasingly stringent ethics review in recent years, have hampered their ability to conduct CRTs. Many informants said that comprehensive ethics guidelines for CRTs would be helpful to researchers and research ethics committees.
Conclusions
Informants identified key ethical challenges in the conduct of CRTs, specifically relating to identifying subjects, seeking informed consent, and the use of gatekeepers. These data have since been used to identify topics for in-depth ethical analysis and to guide the development of comprehensive ethics guidelines for CRTs.
doi:10.1186/1745-6215-14-1
PMCID: PMC3561139  PMID: 23286245
Cluster randomized trials; Research ethics; Informed consent; Clinical trials; Bioethics; Knowledge translation; Quality improvement; Implementation research
5.  What is the role and authority of gatekeepers in cluster randomized trials in health research? 
Trials  2012;13:116.
This article is part of a series of papers examining ethical issues in cluster randomized trials (CRTs) in health research. In the introductory paper in this series, we set out six areas of inquiry that must be addressed if the CRT is to be set on a firm ethical foundation. This paper addresses the sixth of the questions posed, namely, what is the role and authority of gatekeepers in CRTs in health research? ‘Gatekeepers’ are individuals or bodies that represent the interests of cluster members, clusters, or organizations. The need for gatekeepers arose in response to the difficulties in obtaining informed consent because of cluster randomization, cluster-level interventions, and cluster size. In this paper, we call for a more restrictive understanding of the role and authority of gatekeepers.
Previous papers in this series have provided solutions to the challenges posed by informed consent in CRTs without the need to invoke gatekeepers. We considered that consent to randomization is not required when cluster members are approached for consent at the earliest opportunity and before any study interventions or data-collection procedures have started. Further, when cluster-level interventions or cluster size means that obtaining informed consent is not possible, a waiver of consent may be appropriate. In this paper, we suggest that the role of gatekeepers in protecting individual interests in CRTs should be limited. Generally, gatekeepers do not have the authority to provide proxy consent for cluster members. When a municipality or other community has a legitimate political authority that is empowered to make such decisions, cluster permission may be appropriate; however, gatekeepers may usefully protect cluster interests in other ways. Cluster consultation may ensure that the CRT addresses local health needs, and is conducted in accord with local values and customs. Gatekeepers may also play an important role in protecting the interests of organizations, such as hospitals, nursing homes, general practices, and schools. In these settings, permission to access the organization relies on resource implications and adherence to institutional policies.
doi:10.1186/1745-6215-13-116
PMCID: PMC3443001  PMID: 22834691
6.  Efficacy of a Low-Cost, Inactivated Whole-Cell Oral Cholera Vaccine: Results from 3 Years of Follow-Up of a Randomized, Controlled Trial 
Background
Killed oral cholera vaccines (OCVs) have been licensed for use in developing countries, but protection conferred by licensed OCVs beyond two years of follow-up has not been demonstrated in randomized, clinical trials.
Methods/Principal Findings
We conducted a cluster-randomized, placebo-controlled trial of a two-dose regimen of a low-cost killed whole cell OCV in residents 1 year of age and older living in 3,933 clusters in Kolkata, India. The primary endpoint was culture-proven Vibrio cholerae O1 diarrhea episodes severe enough to require treatment in a health care facility. Of the 66,900 fully dosed individuals (31,932 vaccinees and 34,968 placebo recipients), 38 vaccinees and 128 placebo-recipients developed cholera during three years of follow-up (protective efficacy 66%; one-sided 95%CI lower bound = 53%, p<0.001). Vaccine protection during the third year of follow-up was 65% (one-sided 95%CI lower bound = 44%, p<0.001). Significant protection was evident in the second year of follow-up in children vaccinated at ages 1–4 years and in the third year in older age groups.
Conclusions/Significance
The killed whole-cell OCV conferred significant protection that was evident in the second year of follow-up in young children and was sustained for at least three years in older age groups. Continued follow-up will be important to establish the vaccine's duration of protection.
Trial Registration
ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00289224.
Author Summary
New-generation vaccines against cholera are given orally, to stimulate intestinal immunity. An internationally available oral cholera vaccine (OCV) consists of killed vibrio whole cells together with the B subunit of cholera toxin, is safe, and protects vaccinated individuals against cholera for two years, but this vaccine has seen limited use due to its high cost. We developed a simpler, inactivated whole-cell only OCV that can be produced inexpensively and might therefore be attractive for use in developing countries, as well as for travelers from industrialized countries. We tested this new OCV in a randomized, controlled field trial that enrolled 69,328 individuals aged one year and older living in urban slums of Kolkata, India. At three years of follow-up after receiving at two-dose regimen of this OCV, the vaccinated population experienced 66% protection against all episodes of cholera occurring during the three years, and 65% protection against episodes occurring during the third year. Significant protection was evident in the second year in children vaccinated at ages 1–4 years and in the third year in persons vaccinated at ages of five years and older. Follow-up of the study population will continue for five years to ascertain the duration of vaccine protection.
doi:10.1371/journal.pntd.0001289
PMCID: PMC3196468  PMID: 22028938
7.  When is informed consent required in cluster randomized trials in health research? 
Trials  2011;12:202.
This article is part of a series of papers examining ethical issues in cluster randomized trials (CRTs) in health research. In the introductory paper in this series, we set out six areas of inquiry that must be addressed if the cluster trial is to be set on a firm ethical foundation. This paper addresses the second of the questions posed, namely, from whom, when, and how must informed consent be obtained in CRTs in health research? The ethical principle of respect for persons implies that researchers are generally obligated to obtain the informed consent of research subjects. Aspects of CRT design, including cluster randomization, cluster level interventions, and cluster size, present challenges to obtaining informed consent. Here we address five questions related to consent and CRTs: How can a study proceed if informed consent is not possible? Is consent to randomization always required? What information must be disclosed to potential subjects if their cluster has already been randomized? Is passive consent a valid substitute for informed consent? Do health professionals have a moral obligation to participate as subjects in CRTs designed to improve professional practice?
We set out a framework based on the moral foundations of informed consent and international regulatory provisions to address each of these questions. First, when informed consent is not possible, a study may proceed if a research ethics committee is satisfied that conditions for a waiver of consent are satisfied. Second, informed consent to randomization may not be required if it is not possible to approach subjects at the time of randomization. Third, when potential subjects are approached after cluster randomization, they must be provided with a detailed description of the interventions in the trial arm to which their cluster has been randomized; detailed information on interventions in other trial arms need not be provided. Fourth, while passive consent may serve a variety of practical ends, it is not a substitute for valid informed consent. Fifth, while health professionals may have a moral obligation to participate as subjects in research, this does not diminish the necessity of informed consent to study participation.
doi:10.1186/1745-6215-12-202
PMCID: PMC3184061  PMID: 21906277
8.  Who is the research subject in cluster randomized trials in health research? 
Trials  2011;12:183.
This article is part of a series of papers examining ethical issues in cluster randomized trials (CRTs) in health research. In the introductory paper in this series, we set out six areas of inquiry that must be addressed if the CRT is to be set on a firm ethical foundation. This paper addresses the first of the questions posed, namely, who is the research subject in a CRT in health research? The identification of human research subjects is logically prior to the application of protections as set out in research ethics and regulation. Aspects of CRT design, including the fact that in a single study the units of randomization, experimentation, and observation may differ, complicate the identification of human research subjects. But the proper identification of human research subjects is important if they are to be protected from harm and exploitation, and if research ethics committees are to review CRTs efficiently.
We examine the research ethics literature and international regulations to identify the core features of human research subjects, and then unify these features under a single, comprehensive definition of human research subject. We define a human research subject as any person whose interests may be compromised as a result of interventions in a research study. Individuals are only human research subjects in CRTs if: (1) they are directly intervened upon by investigators; (2) they interact with investigators; (3) they are deliberately intervened upon via a manipulation of their environment that may compromise their interests; or (4) their identifiable private information is used to generate data. Individuals who are indirectly affected by CRT study interventions, including patients of healthcare providers participating in knowledge translation CRTs, are not human research subjects unless at least one of these conditions is met.
doi:10.1186/1745-6215-12-183
PMCID: PMC3162904  PMID: 21791064
9.  Inadequate reporting of research ethics review and informed consent in cluster randomised trials: review of random sample of published trials 
Objectives To investigate the extent to which authors of cluster randomised trials adhered to two basic requirements of the World Medical Association’s Declaration of Helsinki and the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors’ uniform requirements for manuscripts (namely, reporting of research ethics review and informed consent), to determine whether the adequacy of reporting has improved over time, and to identify characteristics of cluster randomised trials associated with reporting of ethics practices.
Design Review of a random sample of published cluster randomised trials from an electronic search in Medline.
Setting Cluster randomised trials in health research published in English language journals from 2000 to 2008.
Study sample 300 cluster randomised trials published in 150 journals.
Results 77 (26%, 95% confidence interval 21% to 31%) trials failed to report ethics review. The proportion reporting ethics review increased significantly over time (P<0.001). Trials with data collection interventions at the individual level were more likely to report ethics review than were trials that used routine data sources only (79% (n=151) v 55% (23); P=0.008). Trials that accounted for clustering in the design and analysis were more likely to report ethics review. The median impact factor of the journal of publication was higher for trials that reported ethics review (3.4 v 2.3; P<0.001). 93 (31%, 26% to 36%) trials failed to report consent. Reporting of consent increased significantly over time (P<0.001). Trials with interventions targeting participants at the individual level were more likely to report consent than were trials with interventions targeting the cluster level (87% (90) v 48% (41); P<0.001). Trials with data collection interventions at the individual level were more likely to report consent than were those that used routine data sources only (78% (146) v 29% (11); P<0.001).
Conclusions Reporting of research ethics protections in cluster randomised trials is inadequate. In addition to research ethics approval, authors should report whether informed consent was sought, from whom consent was sought, and what consent was for.
doi:10.1136/bmj.d2496
PMCID: PMC3092521  PMID: 21562003
10.  Does clinical equipoise apply to cluster randomized trials in health research? 
Trials  2011;12:118.
This article is part of a series of papers examining ethical issues in cluster randomized trials (CRTs) in health research. In the introductory paper in this series, Weijer and colleagues set out six areas of inquiry that must be addressed if the cluster trial is to be set on a firm ethical foundation. This paper addresses the third of the questions posed, namely, does clinical equipoise apply to CRTs in health research? The ethical principle of beneficence is the moral obligation not to harm needlessly and, when possible, to promote the welfare of research subjects. Two related ethical problems have been discussed in the CRT literature. First, are control groups that receive only usual care unduly disadvantaged? Second, when accumulating data suggests the superiority of one intervention in a trial, is there an ethical obligation to act?
In individually randomized trials involving patients, similar questions are addressed by the concept of clinical equipoise, that is, the ethical requirement that, at the start of a trial, there be a state of honest, professional disagreement in the community of expert practitioners as to the preferred treatment. Since CRTs may not involve physician-researchers and patient-subjects, the applicability of clinical equipoise to CRTs is uncertain. Here we argue that clinical equipoise may be usefully grounded in a trust relationship between the state and research subjects, and, as a result, clinical equipoise is applicable to CRTs. Clinical equipoise is used to argue that control groups receiving only usual care are not disadvantaged so long as the evidence supporting the experimental and control interventions is such that experts would disagree as to which is preferred. Further, while data accumulating during the course of a CRT may favor one intervention over another, clinical equipoise supports continuing the trial until the results are likely to be broadly convincing, often coinciding with the planned completion of the trial. Finally, clinical equipoise provides research ethics committees with formal and procedural guidelines that form an important part of the assessment of the benefits and harms of CRTs in health research.
doi:10.1186/1745-6215-12-118
PMCID: PMC3113987  PMID: 21569349
11.  Ethical issues posed by cluster randomized trials in health research 
Trials  2011;12:100.
The cluster randomized trial (CRT) is used increasingly in knowledge translation research, quality improvement research, community based intervention studies, public health research, and research in developing countries. However, cluster trials raise difficult ethical issues that challenge researchers, research ethics committees, regulators, and sponsors as they seek to fulfill responsibly their respective roles. Our project will provide a systematic analysis of the ethics of cluster trials. Here we have outlined a series of six areas of inquiry that must be addressed if the cluster trial is to be set on a firm ethical foundation:
1. Who is a research subject?
2. From whom, how, and when must informed consent be obtained?
3. Does clinical equipoise apply to CRTs?
4. How do we determine if the benefits outweigh the risks of CRTs?
5. How ought vulnerable groups be protected in CRTs?
6. Who are gatekeepers and what are their responsibilities?
Subsequent papers in this series will address each of these areas, clarifying the ethical issues at stake and, where possible, arguing for a preferred solution. Our hope is that these papers will serve as the basis for the creation of international ethical guidelines for the design and conduct of cluster randomized trials.
doi:10.1186/1745-6215-12-100
PMCID: PMC3107798  PMID: 21507237
14.  HLA AND CROSS·REACTIVE ANTIGEN GROUP MATCHING FOR CADAVER KIDNEY ALLOCATION1 
Transplantation  1997;64(7):983-991.
Background
Allocation of cadaver kidneys by graded human leukocyte antigen (HLA) compatibility scoring arguably has had little effect on overall survival while prejudicing the transplant candidacy of African-American and other hard to match populations. Consequently, matching has been proposed of deduced amino acid residues of the individual HLA molecules shared by cross-reactive antigen groups (CREGs). We have examined the circumstances under which compatibility with either method impacted graft survival.
Methods
Using Cox proportional hazards regression modeling, we studied the relationship between levels of conventional HLA mismatch and other donor and recipient factors on primary cadaver kidney survival between 1981 and 1995 at the University of Pittsburgh (n=1,780) and in the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) Scientific Registry during 1991–1995 (n=31,291). The results were compared with those obtained by the matching of amino acid residues that identified CREG-compatible cases with as many as four (but not five and six) HLA mismatches.
Results
With more than one HLA mismatch (>85% of patients in both series), most of the survival advantage of a zero mismatch was lost. None of the HLA loci were “weak.” In the UNOS (but not Pittsburgh) category of one-HLA mismatch (n=1334), a subgroup of CREG-matched recipients (35.3%) had better graft survival than the remaining 64.7%, who were CREG-mismatched. There was no advantage of a CREG match in the two- to four-HLA incompatibility tiers. Better graft survival with tacrolimus was observed in both the Pittsburgh and UNOS series.
Conclusions
Obligatory national sharing of cadaver kidneys is justifiable only for zero-HLA-mismatched kidneys. The potential value of CREG matching observed in the one-HLA-mismatched recipients of the UNOS (but not the Pittsburgh) experience deserves further study.
PMCID: PMC2967288  PMID: 9381546
15.  Electronic search strategies to identify reports of cluster randomized trials in MEDLINE: low precision will improve with adherence to reporting standards 
Background
Cluster randomized trials (CRTs) present unique methodological and ethical challenges. Researchers conducting systematic reviews of CRTs (e.g., addressing methodological or ethical issues) require efficient electronic search strategies (filters or hedges) to identify trials in electronic databases such as MEDLINE. According to the CONSORT statement extension to CRTs, the clustered design should be clearly identified in titles or abstracts; however, variability in terminology may make electronic identification challenging. Our objectives were to (a) evaluate sensitivity ("recall") and precision of a well-known electronic search strategy ("randomized controlled trial" as publication type) with respect to identifying CRTs, (b) evaluate the feasibility of new search strategies targeted specifically at CRTs, and (c) determine whether CRTs are appropriately identified in titles or abstracts of reports and whether there has been improvement over time.
Methods
We manually examined a wide range of health journals to identify a gold standard set of CRTs. Search strategies were evaluated against the gold standard set, as well as an independent set of CRTs included in previous systematic reviews.
Results
The existing strategy (randomized controlled trial.pt) is sensitive (93.8%) for identifying CRTs, but has relatively low precision (9%, number needed to read 11); the number needed to read can be halved to 5 (precision 18.4%) by combining with cluster design-related terms using the Boolean operator AND; combining with the Boolean operator OR maximizes sensitivity (99.4%) but would require 28.6 citations read to identify one CRT. Only about 50% of CRTs are clearly identified as cluster randomized in titles or abstracts; approximately 25% can be identified based on the reported units of randomization but are not amenable to electronic searching; the remaining 25% cannot be identified except through manual inspection of the full-text article. The proportion of trials clearly identified has increased from 28% between the years 2000-2003, to 60% between 2004-2007 (absolute increase 32%, 95% CI 17 to 47%).
Conclusions
CRTs should include the phrase "cluster randomized trial" in titles or abstracts; this will facilitate more accurate indexing of the publication type by reviewers at the National Library of Medicine, and efficient textword retrieval of the subset employing cluster randomization.
doi:10.1186/1471-2288-10-15
PMCID: PMC2833170  PMID: 20158899
16.  Ethical and policy issues in cluster randomized trials: rationale and design of a mixed methods research study 
Trials  2009;10:61.
Background
Cluster randomized trials are an increasingly important methodological tool in health research. In cluster randomized trials, intact social units or groups of individuals, such as medical practices, schools, or entire communities – rather than individual themselves – are randomly allocated to intervention or control conditions, while outcomes are then observed on individual cluster members. The substantial methodological differences between cluster randomized trials and conventional randomized trials pose serious challenges to the current conceptual framework for research ethics. The ethical implications of randomizing groups rather than individuals are not addressed in current research ethics guidelines, nor have they even been thoroughly explored. The main objectives of this research are to: (1) identify ethical issues arising in cluster trials and learn how they are currently being addressed; (2) understand how ethics reviews of cluster trials are carried out in different countries (Canada, the USA and the UK); (3) elicit the views and experiences of trial participants and cluster representatives; (4) develop well-grounded guidelines for the ethical conduct and review of cluster trials by conducting an extensive ethical analysis and organizing a consensus process; (5) disseminate the guidelines to researchers, research ethics boards (REBs), journal editors, and research funders.
Methods
We will use a mixed-methods (qualitative and quantitative) approach incorporating both empirical and conceptual work. Empirical work will include a systematic review of a random sample of published trials, a survey and in-depth interviews with trialists, a survey of REBs, and in-depth interviews and focus group discussions with trial participants and gatekeepers. The empirical work will inform the concurrent ethical analysis which will lead to a guidance document laying out principles, policy options, and rationale for proposed guidelines. An Expert Panel of researchers, ethicists, health lawyers, consumer advocates, REB members, and representatives from low-middle income countries will be appointed. A consensus conference will be convened and draft guidelines will be generated by the Panel; an e-consultation phase will then be launched to invite comments from the broader community of researchers, policy-makers, and the public before a final set of guidelines is generated by the Panel and widely disseminated by the research team.
doi:10.1186/1745-6215-10-61
PMCID: PMC2725043  PMID: 19638233
17.  The Pittsburgh Randomized Trial of Tacrolimus Compared to Cyclosporine for Hepatic Transplantation 
Background
Tacrolimus (formerly FK 506) was first used clinically in 1989 to successfully replace cyclosporine in hepatic transplant recipients who were experiencing intractable rejection or as the baseline drug from the time of operation. After extensive pilot experience, an institutional review board-mandated clinical trial comparing cyclosporine with tacrolimus was performed.
Study Design
From February 16, 1990 to December 26, 1991, 154 patients were recruited. The competing drugs were combined with equal induction doses of prednisone in both arms of the study for the first 81 patients and with subsequently higher doses of prednisone in the remaining 35 patients who received cyclosporine and were entered into the trial. Drug crossover was permitted for lack of efficacy or adverse events. End points were rejection confirmed by biopsy and treatment failure leading to retransplantation or death.
Results
Seventy-nine patients were randomized to the tacrolimus arm and 75 to the cyclosporine arm during 1990 and 1991. All patients were available for follow-up throughout the trial, which terminated on May 30, 1995. The mean duration of follow-up was four years. Patients randomized to the tacrolimus arm were less likely to experience acute rejection than were those receiving cyclosporine, with 36.2 percent of the patients receiving tacrolimus and 16.8 percent of the patients receiving cyclosporine showing freedom from rejection at one year (p=0.003, likelihood ratio test). Survival of patients over the course of the study was virtually the same in the two groups.
Conclusions
Tacrolimus was more effective than cyclosporine in preventing acute rejection.
PMCID: PMC2677969  PMID: 8696542
18.  Comparison of two dependent within subject coefficients of variation to evaluate the reproducibility of measurement devices 
Background
The within-subject coefficient of variation and intra-class correlation coefficient are commonly used to assess the reliability or reproducibility of interval-scale measurements. Comparison of reproducibility or reliability of measurement devices or methods on the same set of subjects comes down to comparison of dependent reliability or reproducibility parameters.
Methods
In this paper, we develop several procedures for testing the equality of two dependent within-subject coefficients of variation computed from the same sample of subjects, which is, to the best of our knowledge, has not yet been dealt with in the statistical literature. The Wald test, the likelihood ratio, and the score tests are developed. A simple regression procedure based on results due to Pitman and Morgan is constructed. Furthermore we evaluate the statistical properties of these methods via extensive Monte Carlo simulations. The methodologies are illustrated on two data sets; the first are the microarray gene expressions measured by two plat- forms; the Affymetrix and the Amersham. Because microarray experiments produce expressions for a large number of genes, one would expect that the statistical tests to be asymptotically equivalent. To explore the behaviour of the tests in small or moderate sample sizes, we illustrated the methodologies on data from computer-aided tomographic scans of 50 patients.
Results
It is shown that the relatively simple Wald's test (WT) is as powerful as the likelihood ratio test (LRT) and that both have consistently greater power than the score test. The regression test holds its empirical levels, and in some occasions is as powerful as the WT and the LRT.
Conclusion
A comparison between the reproducibility of two measuring instruments using the same set of subjects leads naturally to a comparison of two correlated indices. The presented methodology overcomes the difficulty noted by data analysts that dependence between datasets would confound any inferences one could make about the differences in measures of reliability and reproducibility. The statistical tests presented in this paper have good properties in terms of statistical power.
doi:10.1186/1471-2288-8-24
PMCID: PMC2383920  PMID: 18430244
19.  Maternal and neonatal individual risks and benefits associated with caesarean delivery: multicentre prospective study 
BMJ : British Medical Journal  2007;335(7628):1025.
Objective To assess the risks and benefits associated with caesarean delivery compared with vaginal delivery.
Design Prospective cohort study within the 2005 WHO global survey on maternal and perinatal health.
Setting 410 health facilities in 24 areas in eight randomly selected Latin American countries; 123 were randomly selected and 120 participated and provided data
Participants 106 546 deliveries reported during the three month study period, with data available for 97 095 (91% coverage).
Main outcome measures Maternal, fetal, and neonatal morbidity and mortality associated with intrapartum or elective caesarean delivery, adjusted for clinical, demographic, pregnancy, and institutional characteristics.
Results Women undergoing caesarean delivery had an increased risk of severe maternal morbidity compared with women undergoing vaginal delivery (odds ratio 2.0 (95% confidence interval 1.6 to 2.5) for intrapartum caesarean and 2.3 (1.7 to 3.1) for elective caesarean). The risk of antibiotic treatment after delivery for women having either type of caesarean was five times that of women having vaginal deliveries. With cephalic presentation, there was a trend towards a reduced odds ratio for fetal death with elective caesarean, after adjustment for possible confounding variables and gestational age (0.7, 0.4 to 1.0). With breech presentation, caesarean delivery had a large protective effect for fetal death. With cephalic presentation, however, independent of possible confounding variables and gestational age, intrapartum and elective caesarean increased the risk for a stay of seven or more days in neonatal intensive care (2.1 (1.8 to 2.6) and 1.9 (1.6 to 2.3), respectively) and the risk of neonatal mortality up to hospital discharge (1.7 (1.3 to 2.2) and 1.9 (1.5 to 2.6), respectively), which remained higher even after exclusion of all caesarean deliveries for fetal distress. Such increased risk was not seen for breech presentation. Lack of labour was a risk factor for a stay of seven or more days in neonatal intensive care and neonatal mortality up to hospital discharge for babies delivered by elective caesarean delivery, but rupturing of membranes may be protective.
Conclusions Caesarean delivery independently reduces overall risk in breech presentations and risk of intrapartum fetal death in cephalic presentations but increases the risk of severe maternal and neonatal morbidity and mortality in cephalic presentations.
doi:10.1136/bmj.39363.706956.55
PMCID: PMC2078636  PMID: 17977819
20.  Lessons and implications from a mass immunization campaign in squatter settlements of Karachi, Pakistan: an experience from a cluster-randomized double-blinded vaccine trial [NCT00125047] 
Trials  2006;7:17.
Objective
To determine the safety and logistic feasibility of a mass immunization strategy outside the local immunization program in the pediatric population of urban squatter settlements in Karachi, Pakistan.
Methods
A cluster-randomized double blind preventive trial was launched in August 2003 in 60 geographic clusters covering 21,059 children ages 2 to 16 years. After consent was obtained from parents or guardians, eligible children were immunized parenterally at vaccination posts in each cluster with Vi polysaccharide or hepatitis A vaccine. Safety, logistics, and standards were monitored and documented.
Results
The vaccine coverage of the population was 74% and was higher in those under age 10 years. No life-threatening serious adverse events were reported. Adverse events occurred in less than 1% of all vaccine recipients and the main reactions reported were fever and local pain. The proportion of adverse events in Vi polysaccharide and hepatitis A recipients will not be known until the end of the trial when the code is broken. Throughout the vaccination campaign safe injection practices were maintained and the cold chain was not interrupted. Mass vaccination in slums had good acceptance. Because populations in such areas are highly mobile, settlement conditions could affect coverage. Systemic reactions were uncommon and local reactions were mild and transient. Close community involvement was pivotal for information dissemination and immunization coverage.
Conclusion
This vaccine strategy described together with other information that will soon be available in the area (cost/effectiveness, vaccine delivery costs, etc) will make typhoid fever control become a reality in the near future.
doi:10.1186/1745-6215-7-17
PMCID: PMC1513251  PMID: 16725026
21.  The prevalence of stillbirths: a systematic review 
Background
Stillbirth rate is an important indicator of access to and quality of antenatal and delivery care. Obtaining overall estimates across various regions of the world is not straightforward due to variation in definitions, data collection methods and reporting.
Methods
We conducted a systematic review of a range of pregnancy-related conditions including stillbirths and performed meta-analysis of the subset of studies reporting stillbirth rates. We examined variation across rates and used meta-regression techniques to explain observed variation.
Results
We identified 389 articles on stillbirth prevalence among the 2580 included in the systematic review. We included 70 providing 80 data sets from 50 countries in the meta-analysis. Pooled prevalence rates show variation across various subgroup categories. Rates per 100 births are higher in studies conducted in less developed country settings as compared to more developed (1.17 versus 0.50), of inadequate quality as compared to adequate (1.12 versus 0.66), using sub-national sample as compared to national (1.38 versus 0.68), reporting all stillbirths as compared to late stillbirths (0.95 versus 0.63), published in non-English as compared to English (0.91 versus 0.59) and as journal articles as compared to non-journal (1.37 versus 0.67). The results of the meta-regression show the significance of two predictor variables – development status of the setting and study quality – on stillbirth prevalence.
Conclusion
Stillbirth prevalence at the community level is typically less than 1% in more developed parts of the world and could exceed 3% in less developed regions. Regular reviews of stillbirth rates in appropriately designed and reported studies are useful in monitoring the adequacy of care. Systematic reviews of prevalence studies are helpful in explaining sources of variation across rates. Exploring these methodological issues will lead to improved standards for assessing the burden of reproductive ill-health.
doi:10.1186/1742-4755-3-1
PMCID: PMC1360064  PMID: 16401351
22.  Efficacy of an extract of North American ginseng containing poly-furanosyl-pyranosyl-saccharides for preventing upper respiratory tract infections: a randomized controlled trial 
Background
Upper respiratory tract infections are a major source of morbidity throughout the world. Extracts of the root of North American ginseng (Panax quinquefolium) have been found to have the potential to modulate both natural and acquired immune responses. We sought to examine the efficacy of an extract of North American ginseng root in preventing colds.
Methods
We conducted a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study at the onset of the influenza season. A total of 323 subjects 18–65 years of age with a history of at least 2 colds in the previous year were recruited from the general population in Edmonton, Alberta. The participants were instructed to take 2 capsules per day of either the North American ginseng extract or a placebo for a period of 4 months. The primary outcome measure was the number of Jackson-verified colds. Secondary variables measured included symptom severity, total number of days of symptoms and duration of all colds. Cold symptoms were scored by subjects using a 4-point scale.
Results
Subjects who did not start treatment were excluded from the analysis (23 in the ginseng group and 21 in the placebo group), leaving 130 in the ginseng group and 149 in the placebo group. The mean number of colds per person was lower in the ginseng group than in the placebo group (0.68 [standard deviation (SD) 0.82] v. 0.93 [SD 0.91], difference 0.25%, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.04–0.45). The proportion of subjects with 2 or more Jackson-verified colds during the 4-month period (10.0% v. 22.8%, 12.8% difference, 95% CI 4.3–21.3) was significantly lower in the ginseng group than in the placebo group, as were the total symptom score (77.5 [SD 84.6] v. 112.3 [SD 102.5], difference 1.5%, 95% CI 1.2–2.0) and the total number of days cold symptoms were reported (10.8 [SD 9.7] v. 16.5 [SD 13.8] days, difference 1.6%, 95% CI 1.3–2.0) for all colds.
Interpretation
Ingestion of a poly-furanosyl-pyranosyl-saccharide–rich extract of the roots of North American ginseng in a moderate dose over 4 months reduced the mean number of colds per person, the proportion of subjects who experienced 2 or more colds, the severity of symptoms and the number of days cold symptoms were reported.
doi:10.1503/cmaj.1041470
PMCID: PMC1266327  PMID: 16247099
23.  A mass vaccination campaign targeting adults and children to prevent typhoid fever in Hechi; Expanding the use of Vi polysaccharide vaccine in Southeast China: A cluster-randomized trial 
BMC Public Health  2005;5:49.
Background
One of the goals of this study was to learn the coverage, safety and logistics of a mass vaccination campaign against typhoid fever in children and adults using locally produced typhoid Vi polysaccharide (PS) and group A meningococcal PS vaccines in southern China.
Methods
The vaccination campaign targeted 118,588 persons in Hechi, Guangxi Province, aged between 5 to 60 years, in 2003. The study area was divided into 107 geographic clusters, which were randomly allocated to receive one of the single-dose parenteral vaccines. All aspects regarding vaccination logistics, feasibility and safety were documented and systematically recorded. Results of the logistics, feasibility and safety are reported.
Results
The campaign lasted 5 weeks and the overall vaccination coverage was 78%. On average, the 30 vaccine teams gave immunizations on 23 days. Vaccine rates were higher in those aged ≤ 15 years (90%) than in adolescents and young adults (70%). Planned mop-up activities increased the coverage by 17%. The overall vaccine wastage was 11%. The cold chain was maintained and documented. 66 individuals reported of adverse events out of all vaccinees, where fever (21%), malaise (19%) and local redness (19%) were the major symptoms; no life-threatening event occurred. Three needle-sharp events were reported.
Conclusion
The mass immunization proved feasible and safe, and vaccine coverage was high. Emphasis should be placed on: injection safety measures, community involvement and incorporation of mop-up strategies into any vaccination campaign. School-based and all-age Vi mass immunizations programs are potentially important public health strategies for prevention of typhoid fever in high-risk populations in southern China.
doi:10.1186/1471-2458-5-49
PMCID: PMC1156911  PMID: 15904514
25.  Effectiveness of the Family Physician in Hypertension Screening and Management 
Canadian Family Physician  1982;28:255-258.
As the initial step of a large randomized trial to test a new strategy of caring for hypertensive patients, the state of blood pressure screening was studied in 34 community-based family practices in southwestern Ontario. The charts of all active adult patients, 20-65 years of age, were reviewed.
At least one blood pressure reading was recorded in the last five years for 71% of the 40,453 patients. The proportion of patients screened increased with age; in each age group, a greater proportion of females than males had been screened. Overall, 8.9% of males and 9.6% of females were labelled hypertensive. The rate of patients so labelled increased with age to a maximum of 30% of the 55-65 age group. More than 50% of patients with diastolic pressures over 105 mm Hg were not taking hypotensive drugs.
PMCID: PMC2306325  PMID: 21286049

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