Effect of Early Prophylactic High-Dose Recombinant Human Erythropoietin in Very Preterm Infants on Neurodevelopmental Outcome at 2 Years: A Randomized Clinical Trial

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Very preterm infants are at risk of developing encephalopathy of prematurity and long-term neurodevelopmental delay. Erythropoietin treatment is neuroprotective in animal experimental and human clinical studies.


To determine whether prophylactic early high-dose recombinant human erythropoietin (rhEPO) in preterm infants improves neurodevelopmental outcome at 2 years’ corrected age.

Design, Setting, and Participants

Preterm infants born between 26 weeks 0 days’ and 31 weeks 6 days’ gestation were enrolled in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, multicenter trial in Switzerland between 2005 and 2012. Neurodevelopmental assessments at age 2 years were completed in 2014.


Participants were randomly assigned to receive either rhEPO (3000 IU/kg) or placebo (isotonic saline, 0.9%) intravenously within 3 hours, at 12 to 18 hours, and at 36 to 42 hours after birth.

Main Outcomes and Measures

Primary outcome was cognitive development assessed with the Mental Development Index (MDI; norm, 100 [SD, 15]; higher values indicate better function) of the Bayley Scales of Infant Development, second edition (BSID-II) at 2 years corrected age. The minimal clinically important difference between groups was 5 points (0.3 SD). Secondary outcomes were motor development (assessed with the Psychomotor Development Index), cerebral palsy, hearing or visual impairment, and anthropometric growth parameters.


Among 448 preterm infants randomized (mean gestational age, 29.0 [range, 26.0-30.9] weeks; 264 [59%] female; mean birth weight, 1210 [range, 490-2290] g), 228 were randomized to rhEPO and 220 to placebo. Neurodevelopmental outcome data were available for 365 (81%) at a mean age of 23.6 months. In an intention-to-treat analysis, mean MDI was not statistically significantly different between the rhEPO group (93.5 [SD, 16.0] [95% CI, 91.2 to 95.8]) and the placebo group (94.5 [SD, 17.8] [95% CI, 90.8 to 98.5]) (difference, −1.0 [95% CI, −4.5 to 2.5]; P = .56). No differences were found between groups in the secondary outcomes.

Conclusions and Relevance

Among very preterm infants who received prophylactic early high-dose rhEPO for neuroprotection, compared with infants who received placebo, there were no statistically significant differences in neurodevelopmental outcomes at 2 years. Follow-up for cognitive and physical problems that may not become evident until later in life is required.

Trial Registration

clinicaltrials.gov Identifier: NCT00413946

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