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Open Access Research article

Analysis of neonatal clinical trials with twin births

Michele L Shaffer12*, Allen R Kunselman1 and Kristi L Watterberg3

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Public Health Sciences, Penn State College of Medicine, Hershey, PA, USA

2 Department of Pediatrics, Penn State College of Medicine, Hershey, PA, USA

3 Department of Pediatrics/Neonatology, University of New Mexico School of Medicine, Albuquerque, NM, USA

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BMC Medical Research Methodology 2009, 9:12  doi:10.1186/1471-2288-9-12

Published: 26 February 2009

Abstract

Background

In neonatal trials of pre-term or low-birth-weight infants, twins may represent 10–20% of the study sample. Mixed-effects models and generalized estimating equations are common approaches for handling correlated continuous or binary data. However, the operating characteristics of these methods for mixes of correlated and independent data are not well established.

Methods

Simulation studies were conducted to compare mixed-effects models and generalized estimating equations to linear regression for continuous outcomes. Similarly, mixed-effects models and generalized estimating equations were compared to ordinary logistic regression for binary outcomes. The parameter of interest is the treatment effect in two-armed clinical trials. Data from the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development Neonatal Research Network are used for illustration.

Results

For continuous outcomes, while the coverage never fell below 0.93, and the type I error rate never exceeded 0.07 for any method, overall linear mixed-effects models performed well with respect to median bias, mean squared error, coverage, and median width. For binary outcomes, the coverage never fell below 0.90, and the type I error rate never exceeded 0.07 for any method. In these analyses, when randomization of twins was to the same treatment group or done independently, ordinary logistic regression performed best. When randomization of twins was to opposite treatment arms, a rare method of randomization in this setting, ordinary logistic regression still performed adequately. Overall, generalized linear mixed models showed the poorest coverage values.

Conclusion

For continuous outcomes, using linear mixed-effects models for analysis is preferred. For binary outcomes, in this setting where the amount of related data is small, but non-negligible, ordinary logistic regression is recommended.