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BACKGROUND: A nested case-control study is an efficient design that can be embedded within an existing cohort study or randomised trial. It has a number of advantages compared to the conventional case-control design, and has the potential to answer important research questions using untapped prospectively collected data. METHODS: We demonstrate the utility of the matched nested case-control design by applying it to a secondary analysis of the Abnormal Doppler Enteral Prescription Trial. We investigated the role of milk feed type and changes in milk feed type in the development of necrotising enterocolitis in a group of 398 high risk growth-restricted preterm infants. RESULTS: Using matching, we were able to generate a comparable sample of controls selected from the same population as the cases. In contrast to the standard case-control design, exposure status was ascertained prior to the outcome event occurring and the comparison between the cases and matched controls could be made at the point at which the event occurred. This enabled us to reliably investigate the temporal relationship between feed type and necrotising enterocolitis. CONCLUSIONS: A matched nested case-control study can be used to identify credible associations in a secondary analysis of clinical trial data where the exposure of interest was not randomised, and has several advantages over a standard case-control design. This method offers the potential to make reliable inferences in scenarios where it would be unethical or impractical to perform a randomised clinical trial.

Original publication




Journal article


BMC Med Res Methodol

Publication Date





Feeding, Matching, Neonatology, Nested case-control, Preterm infants, Randomised controlled trial, Statistical methods