Incorporating Contact Network Structure in Cluster Randomized Trials

Patrick C. Staples, Elizabeth L. Ogburn, Jukka Pekka Onnela

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Whenever possible, the efficacy of a new treatment is investigated by randomly assigning some individuals to a treatment and others to control, and comparing the outcomes between the two groups. Often, when the treatment aims to slow an infectious disease, clusters of individuals are assigned to each treatment arm. The structure of interactions within and between clusters can reduce the power of the trial, i.e. the probability of correctly detecting a real treatment effect. We investigate the relationships among power, within-cluster structure, cross-contamination via between-cluster mixing, and infectivity by simulating an infectious process on a collection of clusters. We demonstrate that compared to simulation-based methods, current formula-based power calculations may be conservative for low levels of between-cluster mixing, but failing to account for moderate or high amounts can result in severely underpowered studies. Power also depends on within-cluster network structure for certain kinds of infectious spreading. Infections that spread opportunistically through highly connected individuals have unpredictable infectious breakouts, making it harder to distinguish between random variation and real treatment effects. Our approach can be used before conducting a trial to assess power using network information, and we demonstrate how empirical data can inform the extent of between-cluster mixing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number17581
JournalScientific reports
StatePublished - Dec 3 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

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