Importance: Biliary atresia is the most common cause of end-stage liver disease in children. Controversy exists as to whether use of steroids after hepatoportoenterostomy improves clinical outcome.
Objective: To determine whether the addition of high-dose corticosteroids after hepatoportoenterostomy is superior to surgery alone in improving biliary drainage and survival with the native liver.
Design, setting, and patients: The multicenter, double-blind Steroids in Biliary Atresia Randomized Trial (START) was conducted in 140 infants (mean age, 2.3 months) between September 2005 and February 2011 in the United States; follow-up ended in January 2013.
Interventions: Participants were randomized to receive intravenous methylprednisolone (4 mg/kg/d for 2 weeks) and oral prednisolone (2 mg/kg/d for 2 weeks) followed by a tapering protocol for 9 weeks (n = 70) or placebo (n = 70) initiated within 72 hours of hepatoportoenterostomy.
Main outcomes and measures: The primary end point (powered to detect a 25% absolute treatment difference) was the percentage of participants with a serum total bilirubin level of less than 1.5 mg/dL with his/her native liver at 6 months posthepatoportoenterostomy. Secondary outcomes included survival with native liver at 24 months of age and serious adverse events.
Results: The proportion of participants with improved bile drainage was not statistically significantly improved by steroids at 6 months posthepatoportoenterostomy (58.6% [41/70] of steroids group vs 48.6% [34/70] of placebo group; adjusted relative risk, 1.14 [95% CI, 0.83 to 1.57]; P = .43). The adjusted absolute risk difference was 8.7% (95% CI, -10.4% to 27.7%). Transplant-free survival was 58.7% in the steroids group vs 59.4% in the placebo group (adjusted hazard ratio, 1.0 [95% CI, 0.6 to 1.8]; P = .99) at 24 months of age. The percentage of participants with serious adverse events was 81.4% [57/70] of the steroids group and 80.0% [56/70] of the placebo group (P > .99); however, participants receiving steroids had an earlier time of onset of their first serious adverse event by 30 days posthepatoportoenterostomy (37.2% [95% CI, 26.9% to 50.0%] of steroids group vs 19.0% [95% CI, 11.5% to 30.4%] of placebo group; P = .008).
Conclusions and relevance: Among infants with biliary atresia who have undergone hepatoportoenterostomy, high-dose steroid therapy following surgery did not result in statistically significant treatment differences in bile drainage at 6 months, although a small clinical benefit could not be excluded. Steroid treatment was associated with earlier onset of serious adverse events in children with biliary atresia.
Trial registration: clinicaltrials.gov Identifier: NCT00294684.