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A new clinical trial in the UK will examine whether a drug normally used to treat depression and anxiety is effective in treating chronic knee pain associated with osteoarthritis.

Patients who participate in the study at the Arthritis Research UK Pain Centre, based at the University of Nottingham and Nottingham City Hospital, are put into one of two groups. One group is given Duloxetine, while the other group receives a placebo.

Diane Reckziegel from the University of Nottingham, chief investigator for the study, commented: “As we get older or sustain injuries our joints, especially the knees, begin to show signs of deterioration. This causes pain that may become chronic over time.

“The most effective treatments for knee osteoarthritis are typically quite invasive, involving steroid injections into the joint or surgery to remove the diseased joint, which is then replaced with an artificial joint.”

Duloxetine has already been shown to be effective in relieving different types of chronic pain, Reckziegel explained. However, we don´t yet know how the drug works to reduce pain, and who might benefit from it.

Before taking the medication, patients in the clinical trial undergo MRI scans of their brain. After taking the drug for six weeks they return for another scan and the effects of the medication are assessed through a combination of imaging and sensory tests and questionnaires.

“By comparing the brains of patients with osteoarthritis before and after the treatment we hope to achieve a better understanding of the mechanisms of pain relief,” Reckziegel said. “This will help us select patients who might benefit more from Duloxetine treatment, hopefully avoiding the need for invasive procedures.”

So far, 44 patients have been recruited for the trial and the researchers hope to sign up another 81 patients before May 2016.