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National pain research centre awarded £2m

Published on 16 October 2014

Professor David Walsh A prestigious research centre in Nottingham that exists to combat the pain of arthritis has been successful in gaining a further five years of funding.

The Arthritis Research UK Pain Centre at The University of Nottingham has been awarded £2m to support its unique research activities.

Leading charity Arthritis Research UK announced the renewal of Nottingham’s centre of excellence status during National Arthritis Week (October 12–19) which is focussing on the effects of pain on people with the chronic joint condition.

The pain centre, launched in 2011 with £5.5m from the charity and the university, aims to gain a better understanding of the pain of arthritis and its biological basis, and to develop better treatments for the 10 million people affected.

Over the past five years the centre has made great progress in a number of key areas, including identifying specific pain mechanisms relating to osteoarthritis, and integrating laboratory and clinical research to demonstrate the way that a number of different molecules work with other processes – such as psychological distress – to contribute to arthritis pain.

This new knowledge has allowed researchers to produce new and more accurate models of pain in osteoarthritis. For example, there is evidence that chronic pain can lead to changes in the shape of the brain, which may help to explain why pain persists in some individuals even after they have received a joint replacement.

And earlier this year researchers at the centre discovered that chemical compounds similar to those in cannabis but without the psychological side-effects could be developed as potential drugs to reduce the pain of osteoarthritis, a finding regarded as significant in the search for better, more effective treatments.

Over the next five years, researchers at the pain centre will focus on osteoarthritis of the knee, which affects more than eight million people. Osteoarthritis is caused when cartilage –the shock absorbing substance at the ends of bones – roughens and thins, leading to pain, stiffness and swelling.

Director of the centre Professor David Walsh said: “We’re working hard to reduce the suffering for people with arthritis. We’re already making progress, but we still have much more to do, so we’re delighted that Arthritis Research UK has seen fit to fund us for another five years.”

Director of research at Arthritis Research UK Dr Stephen Simpson said: “Arthritis Research UK believes everyone has a right to live a pain-free life so we’re investing in research to better understand the causes and treatment for pain.

“Millions of people with arthritis live in pain every day. We desperately need new ways of treating and managing pain better, and our centre in Nottingham is leading the way.”

Over the next five years researchers have two main aims: to find new painkillers and ways of using them, and to prevent the pain of arthritis getting worse over time.

To do this they will:

  • perform clinical assessments and brain imaging to identify how pain is generated and processed in the joint and the brain to define the pain mechanisms in these different groups of people
  • develop new treatments targeting these pain mechanisms
  • follow a group of people with recent onset osteoarthritis knee pain to find out how their pain changes with time, and how this relates to changes in the joint and brain
  • test new treatments which should reduce pain progression, and select successful treatments for clinical development.

Drugs related to cannabis have pain relieving potential for osteoarthritis

Professor Chapman and Dr Sara Kelly

Arthritis Research UK has revealed that chemical compounds synthesised in the laboratory, similar to those found in cannabis, could be developed as potential drugs to reduce the pain of osteoarthritis.

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Arthritis Research UK fund research into the cause, treatment and cure of arthritis. You can support Arthritis Research UK by volunteering, donating or visiting our shops.