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      Data sharing in clinical trials – practical guidance on anonymising trial datasets


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          There is an increasing demand by non-commercial funders that trialists should provide access to trial data once the primary analysis is completed. This has to take into account concerns about identifying individual trial participants, and the legal and regulatory requirements.


          Using the good practice guideline laid out by the work funded by the Medical Research Council Hubs for Trials Methodology Research (MRC HTMR), we anonymised a dataset from a recently completed trial. Using this example, we present practical guidance on how to anonymise a dataset, and describe rules that could be used on other trial datasets. We describe how these might differ if the trial was to be made freely available to all, or if the data could only be accessed with specific permission and data usage agreements in place.


          Following the good practice guidelines, we successfully created a controlled access model for trial data sharing. The data were assessed on a case-by-case basis classifying variables as direct, indirect and superfluous identifiers with differing methods of anonymisation assigned depending on the type of identifier. A final dataset was created and checks of the anonymised dataset were applied. Lastly, a procedure for release of the data was implemented to complete the process.


          We have implemented a practical solution to the data anonymisation process resulting in a bespoke anonymised dataset for a recently completed trial. We have gained useful learnings in terms of efficiency of the process going forward, the need to balance anonymity with data utilisation and future work that should be undertaken.

          Electronic supplementary material

          The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s13063-017-2382-9) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.

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          Most cited references8

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          Public responses to the sharing and linkage of health data for research purposes: a systematic review and thematic synthesis of qualitative studies

          Background The past 10 years have witnessed a significant growth in sharing of health data for secondary uses. Alongside this there has been growing interest in the public acceptability of data sharing and data linkage practices. Public acceptance is recognised as crucial for ensuring the legitimacy of current practices and systems of governance. Given the growing international interest in this area this systematic review and thematic synthesis represents a timely review of current evidence. It highlights the key factors influencing public responses as well as important areas for further research. Methods This paper reports a systematic review and thematic synthesis of qualitative studies examining public attitudes towards the sharing or linkage of health data for research purposes. Twenty-five studies were included in the review. The included studies were conducted primarily in the UK and North America, with one study set in Japan, another in Sweden and one in multiple countries. The included studies were conducted between 1999 and 2013 (eight studies selected for inclusion did not report data collection dates). The qualitative methods represented in the studies included focus groups, interviews, deliberative events, dialogue workshops and asynchronous online interviews. Results Key themes identified across the corpus of studies related to the conditions necessary for public support/acceptability, areas of public concern and implications for future research. The results identify a growing body of evidence pointing towards widespread general—though conditional—support for data linkage and data sharing for research purposes. Whilst a variety of concerns were raised (e.g. relating to confidentiality, individuals’ control over their data, uses and abuses of data and potential harms arising) in cases where participants perceived there to be actual or potential public benefits from research and had trust in the individuals or organisations conducting and/or overseeing data linkage/sharing, they were generally supportive. The studies also find current low levels of awareness about existing practices and uses of data. Conclusions Whilst the results indicate widespread (conditional) public support for data sharing and linkage for research purposes, a range of concerns exist. In order to ensure public support for future research uses of data greater awareness raising combined with opportunities for public engagement and deliberation are needed. This will be essential for ensuring the legitimacy of future health informatics research and avoiding further public controversy.
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            Preparing raw clinical data for publication: guidance for journal editors, authors, and peer reviewers

            Many peer reviewed journals now require authors to be prepared to share their raw, unprocessed data with other scientists or state the availability of raw data in published articles, but little information on how such data should be prepared for sharing has emerged. Iain Hrynaszkiewicz and colleagues propose a minimum standard for de-identifying datasets to ensure patient privacy when sharing clinical research data
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              Mercaptopurine versus placebo to prevent recurrence of Crohn's disease after surgical resection (TOPPIC): a multicentre, double-blind, randomised controlled trial

              Summary Background Up to 60% of patients with Crohn's disease need intestinal resection within the first 10 years of diagnosis, and postoperative recurrence is common. We investigated whether mercaptopurine can prevent or delay postoperative clinical recurrence of Crohn's disease. Methods We did a randomised, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial at 29 UK secondary and tertiary hospitals of patients (aged >16 years in Scotland or >18 years in England and Wales) who had a confirmed diagnosis of Crohn's disease and had undergone intestinal resection. Patients were randomly assigned (1:1) by a computer-generated web-based randomisation system to oral daily mercaptopurine at a dose of 1 mg/kg bodyweight rounded to the nearest 25 mg or placebo; patients with low thiopurine methyltransferase activity received half the normal dose. Patients and their carers and physicians were masked to the treatment allocation. Patients were followed up for 3 years. The primary endpoint was clinical recurrence of Crohn's disease (Crohn's Disease Activity Index >150 plus 100-point increase in score) and the need for anti-inflammatory rescue treatment or primary surgical intervention. Primary and safety analyses were by intention to treat. Subgroup analyses by smoking status, previous thiopurines, previous infliximab or methotrexate, previous surgery, duration of disease, or age at diagnosis were also done. This trial is registered with the International Standard Randomised Controlled Trial Register (ISRCTN89489788) and the European Clinical Trials Database (EudraCT number 2006-005800-15). Findings Between June 6, 2008, and April 23, 2012, 240 patients with Crohn's disease were randomly assigned: 128 to mercaptopurine and 112 to placebo. All patients received at least one dose of study drug, and no randomly assigned patients were excluded from the analysis. 16 (13%) of patients in the mercaptopurine group versus 26 (23%) patients in the placebo group had a clinical recurrence of Crohn's disease and needed anti-inflammatory rescue treatment or primary surgical intervention (adjusted hazard ratio [HR] 0·54, 95% CI 0·27–1·06; p=0·07; unadjusted HR 0·53, 95% CI 0·28–0·99; p=0·046). In a subgroup analysis, three (10%) of 29 smokers in the mercaptopurine group and 12 (46%) of 26 in the placebo group had a clinical recurrence that needed treatment (HR 0·13, 95% CI 0·04–0·46), compared with 13 (13%) of 99 non-smokers in the mercaptopurine group and 14 (16%) of 86 in the placebo group (0·90, 0·42–1·94; pinteraction=0·018). The effect of mercaptopurine did not significantly differ from placebo for any of the other planned subgroup analyses (previous thiopurines, previous infliximab or methotrexate, previous surgery, duration of disease, or age at diagnosis). The incidence and types of adverse events were similar in the mercaptopurine and placebo groups. One patient on placebo died of ischaemic heart disease. Adverse events caused discontinuation of treatment in 39 (30%) of 128 patients in the mercaptopurine group versus 41 (37%) of 112 in the placebo group. Interpretation Mercaptopurine is effective in preventing postoperative clinical recurrence of Crohn's disease, but only in patients who are smokers. Thus, in smokers, thiopurine treatment seems to be justified in the postoperative period, although smoking cessation should be strongly encouraged given that smoking increases the risk of recurrence. Funding Medical Research Council.

                Author and article information

                BioMed Central (London )
                10 January 2018
                10 January 2018
                : 19
                : 25
                [1 ]ISNI 0000 0004 1936 7988, GRID grid.4305.2, Edinburgh Clinical Trials Unit, Usher Institute of Population Health Sciences and Informatics, , University of Edinburgh, ; Nine Bioquarter, 9 Little France Road, Edinburgh, EH16 4UX UK
                [2 ]ISNI 0000 0001 2171 1133, GRID grid.4868.2, Queen Mary University of London, ; London, UK
                [3 ]ISNI 0000 0004 1936 8948, GRID grid.4991.5, CTSU - Clinical Trial Service Unit and Epidemiological Studies Unit University of Oxford, ; Oxford, UK
                Author information
                © The Author(s). 2018

                Open AccessThis article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. 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.

                : 29 August 2017
                : 6 December 2017
                Custom metadata
                © The Author(s) 2018

                data sharing,anonymisation,clinical trial,controlled access,direct identifier
                data sharing, anonymisation, clinical trial, controlled access, direct identifier


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