Intercenter variance in clinical trials of head trauma—experience of the National Acute Brain Injury Study: Hypothermia

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  • 1 Department of Neurosurgery, Vivian L. Smith Center for Neurologic Research, University of Texas—Houston Health Science Center, Houston, Texas; Departments of Biostatistics and Neurosurgery, Medical College of Virginia/Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia; Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas; Department of Neurosurgery, St. Louis University, St. Louis, Missouri; Department of Neurological Surgery, University of California at Davis, Sacramento, California; Department of Neurosurgery, The Brain Trauma Research Center, University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Department of Neurosurgery, Indiana University, Indianapolis, Indiana
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Object. In a recently conducted trial of hypothermia in patients with severe brain injury, differences were found in the effects of hypothermia treatment among various centers. This analysis explores the reasons for such differences.

Methods. The authors reviewed data obtained in 392 patients treated for severe brain injury. Prerandomization variables, critical physiological variables, treatment variables, and accrual methodologies were investigated among various centers. Hypothermia was found to be detrimental in patients older than the age of 45 years, beneficial in patients younger than 45 years of age in whom hypothermia was present on admission, and without effect in those in whom normothermia was documented on admission. Marginally significant differences (p < 0.054) in the intercenter outcomes of hypothermia-treated patients were likely the result of wide differences in the percentage of patients older than 45 years of age and in the percentage of patients in whom hypothermia was present on admission among centers. The trial sensitivity was likely diminished by significant differences in the incidence of mean arterial blood pressure (MABP) less than 70 mm Hg (p < 0.001) and cerebral perfusion pressure (CPP) less than 50 mm Hg (p < 0.05) but not intracranial pressure (ICP) greater than 25 mm Hg (not significant) among patients in the various centers. Hours of vasopressor usage (p < 0.03) and morphine dose (p < 0.001) and the percentage of dehydrated patients varied significantly among centers (p < 0.001). The participation of small centers increased intercenter variance and diminished the quality of data.

Conclusions. For Phase III clinical trials we recommend: 1) a detailed protocol specifying fluid and MABP, ICP, and CPP management; 2) continuous monitoring of protocol compliance; 3) a run-in period for new centers to test accrual and protocol adherence; and 4) inclusion of only centers in which patients are regularly randomized.

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