BACKGROUND & AIMS: There are no approved treatments for pediatric nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and there is a lack of consensus on the best outcome measure for randomized controlled trials. We performed a systematic review of treatments tested for pediatric NAFLD, the degree of heterogeneity in trial design, and endpoints analyzed in these studies.
METHODS: We searched publication databases and clinical trial registries through January 7, 2018 for randomized controlled trials (published and underway) of children (<18 years) with NAFLD. We assessed improvements in histologic features, radiologic and biochemical markers of reduced fibrosis, metabolic syndrome parameters, and adverse events. The quality of the trials was assessed using a modified version of the Cochrane risk of bias tool.
RESULTS: Our final analysis included 21 randomized controlled trials, comprising 1307 participants (mean age, 12.6 years; 63% male; mean duration of intervention, 8 months). Most studies evaluated weight loss with lifestyle intervention (n=8), oral polyunsaturated fatty acid treatment (PUFAs, n=6), or oral antioxidant treatment (n=7). Biomarkers of NAFLD decreased with weight loss, but most studies did not include histologic data. Trials of antioxidants were heterogeneous; some reported reduced histologic features of steatohepatitis with no effect on triglycerides or insulin resistance. PUFAs and probiotics reduced radiologic markers of steatosis, insulin resistance, and levels of triglycerides. Only 38% of the trials had biopsy-proven NAFLD as an inclusion criterion. There was heterogeneity in trial primary endpoints; 10 studies (48%) used levels of aminotransferases or ultrasonography findings as a primary endpoint and only 3 trials (14%) used histologic features as the primary endpoint. We identified 13 randomized controlled trials that are underway in children with NAFLD. None of the protocols include collection of liver biopsies; 9 trials (69%) will use magnetic resonance imaging quantification of steatosis as a primary outcome.
CONCLUSIONS: In a systematic review of published and active randomized controlled trials of children with NAFLD, we found a large amount of heterogeneity in study endpoints and inclusion criteria. Few trials included histologic analyses. Antioxidants appear to reduce some features of steatohepatitis. Effects of treatment with lifestyle modification, PUFAs, or probiotics have not been validated with histologic analysis. Trials that are underway quantify steatosis magnetic resonance imaging-outcomes are anticipated.