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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Causal inference approaches for dealing with time-dependent confounding in longitudinal studies, with applications to multiple sclerosis research Karim, Mohammad Ehsanul


Marginal structural Cox models (MSCMs) have gained popularity in analyzing longitudinal data in the presence of 'time-dependent confounding', primarily in the context of HIV/AIDS and related conditions. This thesis is motivated by issues arising in connection with dealing with time-dependent confounding while assessing the effects of beta-interferon drug exposure on disease progression in relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (MS) patients in the real-world clinical practice setting. In the context of this chronic, yet fluctuating disease, MSCMs were used to adjust for the time-varying confounders, such as MS relapses, as well as baseline characteristics, through the use of inverse probability weighting (IPW). Using a large cohort of 1,697 relapsing-remitting MS patients in British Columbia, Canada (1995-2008), no strong association between beta-interferon exposure and the hazard of disability progression was found (hazard ratio 1.36, 95% confidence interval 0.95, 1.94). We also investigated whether it is possible to improve the MSCM weight estimation techniques by using statistical learning methods, such as bagging, boosting and support vector machines. Statistical learning methods require fewer assumptions and have been found to estimate propensity scores with better covariate balance. As propensity scores and IPWs in MSCM are functionally related, we also studied the usefulness of statistical learning methods via a series of simulation studies. The IPWs estimated from the boosting approach were associated with less bias and better coverage compared to the IPWs estimated from the conventional logistic regression approach. Additionally, two alternative approaches, prescription time-distribution matching (PTDM) and the sequential Cox approach, proposed in the literature to deal with immortal time bias and time-dependent confounding respectively, were compared via a series of simulations. The PTDM approach was found to be not as effective as the Cox model (with treatment considered as a time-dependent exposure) in minimizing immortal time bias. The sequential Cox approach was, however, found to be an effective method to minimize immortal time bias, but not as effective as a MSCM, in the presence of time-dependent confounding. These methods were used to re-analyze the MS dataset to show their applicability. The findings from the simulation studies were also used to guide the data analyses.

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