Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is associated with a high clinical and socioeconomic burden. Treatments to alleviate the symptoms of PAD and decrease the risks of amputation and death are a high societal priority. A number of growth factors have shown a potential to stimulate angiogenesis. Growth factors delivered directly (as recombinant proteins), or indirectly (e.g. by viral vectors or DNA plasmids encoding these factors), have emerged as a promising strategy to treat patients with PAD.
To assess the effects of growth factors that promote angiogenesis for treating people with PAD of the lower extremities.
The Cochrane Vascular Information Specialist searched the Specialised Register (June 2016) and CENTRAL (2016, Issue 5). We searched trial registries for details of ongoing or unpublished studies. We also checked the reference lists of relevant publications and, if necessary, tried to contact the trialists for details of the studies.
We included randomised controlled trials comparing growth factors (delivered directly or indirectly) with no intervention, placebo or any other intervention not based on the growth factor's action in patients with PAD of the lower extremities. The primary outcomes were limb amputation, death and adverse events. The secondary outcomes comprised walking ability, haemodynamic measures, ulceration and rest pain.
Two review authors independently selected trials and assessed the risk of bias. We used outcomes of the studies at low risk of bias for the main analysis and of all studies in the sensitivity analyses. We calculated odds ratios (OR) for dichotomous outcomes and mean differences for continuous outcomes with 95% confidence intervals (CI). We evaluated statistical heterogeneity using the I(2) statistic and Cochrane's Q test. We conducted meta-analysis for the overall effect and for each growth factor as a subgroup analysis using OR in a fixed-effect model. We evaluated the robustness of the results in a sensitivity analysis using risk ratio (RR) and/or a random-effects model. We also assessed the quality of the evidence for each outcome.
We included 20 trials in the review and used 14 studies (on approximately 1400 participants) with published results in the analyses. Six published studies compared fibroblast growth factors (FGF), four studies hepatocyte growth factors (HGF) and another four studies vascular endothelial growth factors (VEGF), versus placebo or no therapy. Six of these studies exclusively or mainly investigated participants with intermittent claudication and eight studies exclusively participants with critical limb ischaemia. Follow-up generally ranged from three months to one year. Two small studies provided some data at 2 years and one of them also at 10 years.The direction and size of effects for growth factors on major limb amputations (OR 0.99, 95% CI 0.71 to 1.38; 10 studies, N = 1075) and death (OR 0.99, 95% CI 0.69 to 1.41; 12 studies, N = 1371) at up to two years are uncertain. The quality of the evidence is low due to risk of bias and imprecision (at one year, moderate-quality evidence due to imprecision). However, growth factors may decrease the rate of any limb amputations (OR 0.56, 95% CI 0.31 to 0.99; 6 studies, N = 415). The quality of the evidence is low due to risk of bias and selective reporting.The direction and size of effects for growth factors on serious adverse events (OR 1.09, 95% CI 0.79 to 1.50; 13 studies, N = 1411) and on any adverse events (OR 1.10, 95% CI 0.73 to 1.64; 4 studies, N = 709) at up to two years are also uncertain. The quality of the evidence is low due to risk of bias and imprecision (for serious adverse events at one year, moderate-quality evidence due to imprecision).Growth factors may improve haemodynamic measures (low-quality evidence), ulceration (very low-quality evidence) and rest pain (very low-quality evidence) up to one year, but they have little or no effect on walking ability (low-quality evidence). We did not identify any relevant differences in effects between growth factors (FGF, HGF and VEGF).
The results of this review do not support the use of therapy with the growth factors FGF, HGF or VEGF in people with PAD of the lower extremities to prevent death or major limb amputation or to improve walking ability. However, the use of these growth factors may improve haemodynamic measures and decrease the rate of any limb amputations (probably due to preventing minor amputations) with an uncertain effect on adverse events; an improvement of ulceration and rest pain is very uncertain. New trials at low risk of bias are needed to generate evidence with more certainty.