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Automating network meta-analysis


Gert van Valkenhoef, Department of Epidemiology, University of Groningen, University Medical Center Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands.



Mixed treatment comparison (MTC) (also called network meta-analysis) is an extension of traditional meta-analysis to allow the simultaneous pooling of data from clinical trials comparing more than two treatment options. Typically, MTCs are performed using general-purpose Markov chain Monte Carlo software such as WinBUGS, requiring a model and data to be specified using a specific syntax. It would be preferable if, for the most common cases, both could be derived from a well-structured data file that can be easily checked for errors. Automation is particularly valuable for simulation studies in which the large number of MTCs that have to be estimated may preclude manual model specification and analysis. Moreover, automated model generation raises issues that provide additional insight into the nature of MTC. We present a method for the automated generation of Bayesian homogeneous variance random effects consistency models, including the choice of basic parameters and trial baselines, priors, and starting values for the Markov chain(s). We validate our method against the results of five published MTCs. The method is implemented in freely available open source software. This means that performing an MTC no longer requires manually writing a statistical model. This reduces time and effort, and facilitates error checking of the dataset. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.