Previous systematic reviews suggest reduction in necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) among preterm infants supplemented with erythropoietin (EPO). We aimed to update our 2018 systematic review in this field considering the evidence accumulated over the last 3 years. Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) reporting the effect of early EPO supplementation vs placebo/no EPO supplementation on any stage NEC in preterm infants were included. Fixed effect model was used for meta-analysis. Trial sequential analysis (TSA) was conducted to verify the effects of EPO on NEC after accounting for repeated significance testing. A total of 22 RCTs (n=5359) were included, of which six were new (n=2541 additional preterm infants) in comparison to our previous systematic review. EPO significantly decreased the risk of any stage NEC (232/2669 (8.7%) vs 313/2690 (11.6%); RR: 0.76; TSA adjusted 95% CI (0.64, 0.90); p= 0.0008, number needed to treat (NNT) = 34). The risk of definite NEC (>= Stage II) was also significantly reduced by EPO administration (105/2219 (4.7%) vs 141/2246 (6.3%); RR: 0.77; 95% CI (0.61, 0.98); p= 0.03, NNT: 62). However, the results for definite NEC were no longer significant on sensitivity analyses that included (a) only double-blind RCTs and (b) only prospectively registered trials. The quality of evidence was deemed moderate-to-low for the reported outcomes.
Conclusion: There is moderate to low-quality evidence that early prophylactic EPO reduces any stage and >= Stage II NEC in preterm neonates. Prospectively registered, adequately powered, double-blind RCTs are required to confirm these findings.