IntroductionPractice effects (PEs) present a potential confound in clinical trials with cognitive outcomes. A single-blind placebo run-in design, with repeated cognitive outcome assessments before randomization to treatment, can minimize effects of practice on trial outcome.
MethodsWe investigated the potential implications of PEs in Alzheimer's disease prevention trials using placebo arm data from the Alzheimer's Disease Cooperative Study donepezil/vitamin E trial in mild cognitive impairment. Frequent ADAS-Cog measurements early in the trial allowed us to compare two competing trial designs: a 19-month trial with randomization after initial assessment, versus a 15-month trial with a 4-month single-blind placebo run-in and randomization after the second administration of the ADAS-Cog. Standard power calculations assuming a mixed-model repeated-measure analysis plan were used to calculate sample size requirements for a hypothetical future trial designed to detect a 50% slowing of cognitive decline.
ResultsOn average, ADAS-Cog 13 scores improved at first follow-up, consistent with a PE and progressively worsened thereafter. The observed change for a 19-month trial (1.18 points) was substantively smaller than that for a 15-month trial with 4-month run-in (1.79 points). To detect a 50% slowing in progression under the standard design (i.e., a 0.59 point slowing), a future trial would require 3.4 times more subjects than would be required to detect the comparable percent slowing (i.e., 0.90 points) with the run-in design.
DiscussionAssuming the improvement at first follow-up observed in this trial represents PEs, the rate of change from the second assessment forward is a more accurate representation of symptom progression in this population and is the appropriate reference point for describing treatment effects characterized as percent slowing of symptom progression; failure to accommodate this leads to an oversized clinical trial. We conclude that PEs are an important potential consideration when planning future trials.