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How important is the linearity assumption in a sample size calculation for a randomised controlled trial where treatment is anticipated to affect a rate of change?

Morgan, KE; White, IR; Frost, C; (2023) How important is the linearity assumption in a sample size calculation for a randomised controlled trial where treatment is anticipated to affect a rate of change? BMC Medical Research Methodology , 23 , Article 274. 10.1186/s12874-023-02093-2. Green open access

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Abstract

Background: For certain conditions, treatments aim to lessen deterioration over time. A trial outcome could be change in a continuous measure, analysed using a random slopes model with a different slope in each treatment group. A sample size for a trial with a particular schedule of visits (e.g. annually for three years) can be obtained using a two-stage process. First, relevant (co-) variances are estimated from a pre-existing dataset e.g. an observational study conducted in a similar setting. Second, standard formulae are used to calculate sample size. However, the random slopes model assumes linear trajectories with any difference in group means increasing proportionally to follow-up time. The impact of these assumptions failing is unclear. Methods: We used simulation to assess the impact of a non-linear trajectory and/or non-proportional treatment effect on the proposed trial’s power. We used four trajectories, both linear and non-linear, and simulated observational studies to calculate sample sizes. Trials of this size were then simulated, with treatment effects proportional or non-proportional to time. Results: For a proportional treatment effect and a trial visit schedule matching the observational study, powers are close to nominal even for non-linear trajectories. However, if the schedule does not match the observational study, powers can be above or below nominal levels, with the extent of this depending on parameters such as the residual error variance. For a non-proportional treatment effect, using a random slopes model can lead to powers far from nominal levels. Conclusions: If trajectories are suspected to be non-linear, observational data used to inform power calculations should have the same visit schedule as the proposed trial where possible. Additionally, if the treatment effect is expected to be non-proportional, the random slopes model should not be used. A model allowing trajectories to vary freely over time could be used instead, either as a second line analysis method (bearing in mind that power will be lost) or when powering the trial.

Type: Article
Title: How important is the linearity assumption in a sample size calculation for a randomised controlled trial where treatment is anticipated to affect a rate of change?
Location: England
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1186/s12874-023-02093-2
Publisher version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s12874-023-02093-2
Language: English
Additional information: This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated in a credit line to the data.
Keywords: Linearity assumption, Model misspecification, Random slopes model, Randomised clinical trial, Sample size calculation, Humans, Sample Size, Computer Simulation
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Population Health Sciences > Inst of Clinical Trials and Methodology
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Population Health Sciences > Inst of Clinical Trials and Methodology > MRC Clinical Trials Unit at UCL
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10184899
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