Background: Anaemia is one of the major clinical characteristics of patients with chronic renal failure, and has a considerable effect on morbidity and mortality. Adequate dialysis is of paramount importance in correcting anaemia by removing small and medium-sized molecules, which may inhibit erythropoiesis. However, high-molecular-weight inhibitors cleared only by means of highly porous membranes have also been found in uraemic serum and it has been claimed from uncontrolled studies that high-flux dialysis could improve anaemia in haemodialysis patients.
Methods: We therefore planned this multicentre randomized controlled trial with the aim of testing whether the use of a large-pore biocompatible membrane for a fixed 12-week follow-up improves anaemia in haemodialysis patients in comparison with the use of a conventional cellulose membrane. Eighty-four (5.3%) of a total of 1576 adult haemodialysed patients attending 13 Dialysis Units fulfilled the entry criteria and were randomly assigned to the experimental treatment (42 patients) or conventional treatment (42 patients).
Results: Haemoglobin levels increased non-significantly from 9.5+/-0.8 to 9.8+/-1.3 g/dl (dP=0. 069) in the population as a whole, with no significant difference between the two groups (P:=0.485). Erythropoietin therapy was given to 32/39 patients (82%) in the conventional group, and 26/35 (74%) in the experimental group (P:=0.783) with subcutaneous administration to 26/32 patients in conventional and to 23/26 patients in experimental group, P:=0.495. Dialysis dose (Kt/V) remained constant in both groups (from 1.30+/-0.17 to 1.33+/-0.20 in the conventional group and from 1.28+/-0.26 to 1.26+/-0.21 in the experimental group, P:=0.242). Median pre- and post-dialysis beta(2)-microglobulin levels remained constant in the conventional group (31.9 and 34.1 mg/dl at baseline) and decreased in the experimental group (pre-dialysis values from 31.1 to 24.7 mg/dl, P:=0.004 and post-dialysis values from 24.8 to 20.8 mg/dl, P:=0.002). Median erythropoietin doses were not different at baseline (70 IU/kg/week in conventional treatment and 90 IU/kg/week in experimental treatment, P:=0.628) and remained constant during follow-up (from 70 to 69 IU/kg/week in the conventional group and from 90 to 91 IU/kg/week in the experimental group, P:=0.410). Median erythropoietin plasma levels were in the normal range and remained constant (from 12.1 to 12.9 mU/ml in the conventional group and from 13.2 to 14.0 mU/ml in the experimental group, P:=0.550).
Conclusions: This study showed no difference in haemoglobin level increase between patients treated for 3 months with a high-flux biocompatible membrane in comparison with those treated with a standard membrane. When patients are highly selected, adequately dialysed, and have no iron or vitamin depletion, the effect of a high-flux membrane is much less than might be expected from the results of uncontrolled studies.