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      Ethical justification of single-blind and double-blind placebo-controlled response tests in neuropathic pain and N-of-1 treatment paradigm in clinical settings

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          Abstract

          At our center in the Netherlands, patients, who very often are treatment resistant to the analgesics recommended in the guidelines, suffering from symmetrical peripheral neuropathic pain are treated exclusively. We have developed a number of compounded topical formulations containing classical co-analgesics such as ketamine, baclofen, amitriptyline, and phenytoin for the treatment of neuropathic pain in treatment-resistant patients. In order to identify putative responders and exclude an (initial) placebo-response, we developed single-blind and double-blind placebo-controlled response tests. The test can be performed when the patient has a symmetrical polyneuropathy with a pain score difference of not more than 1 point on the 11-point numerical rating scale (NRS) between bilateral pain areas. On one area (eg, left foot) the placebo cream and on the other area (eg, right foot) the active cream will be applied. Within a time frame of 30 minutes, patients are considered responders if they rate a pain difference of at least 2 points on the NRS between the bilateral areas on which the active cream and placebo cream are applied. Response tests can be easily conducted during the first consultation. In this paper, we explore the ethical context of using a placebo in clinical practice in a single-blind and double-blind fashion to improve and individualize treatment of neuropathic pain outside a context of a formal clinical trial.

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          Most cited references 15

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          Frequency and circumstances of placebo use in clinical practice - a systematic review of empirical studies

          Background The use of placebo interventions outside clinical trials is ethically, professionally and legally controversial. Little is known about the frequency and circumstances of placebo use in clinical practice. Our aim was to summarize the available empirical studies addressing these issues. Methods We searched PubMed and EMBASE from inception to July 2009 in order to identify cross-sectional surveys, qualitative or longitudinal studies among health care professionals, students or patients which investigated at least one of the following issues - frequency of placebo use or attitudes to, or motivations for, the use of placebo interventions. At least two reviewers extracted information on the study methods, participants and findings. Descriptive summaries were prepared in an iterative process by at least two reviewers per study. Results Twenty-two studies from 12 different countries met the inclusion criteria. Most studies had relevant shortcomings. The proportion of respondents reporting that they had applied 'pure' placebos (for example, saline injection) during their professional life varied between 17% and 80% among physicians and between 51% and 100% among nurses, but it seems that the actual frequency of such use seems to be rare. The use of 'impure' or 'active' placebos (for example, antibiotics for viral infections) is likely to be much more frequent. However, it is impossible to make a reliable estimation because there is no agreement of what an impure placebo might be. Studies using qualitative methods or asking participants to judge case examples suggest that motivations and attitudes towards placebo use are complex and health care providers are often faced with a dilemma. Conclusions Although the available evidence is incomplete and confusing at times there can be little doubt that the prevalence of placebo use outside of clinical trials is not negligible and that views and attitudes on placebos use differ considerably among individuals, both health care professionals and patients. Further research is needed to clarify these issues.
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            N of 1 randomized trials for investigating new drugs.

            Presently, in the process of new drug development, large sample parallel group randomized trials are often begun without the detailed knowledge of optimal dose, most responsive patient group, and optimal outcomes which would be desirable. We propose that randomized trials in individual subjects (N of 1 RCTs) could be used to elucidate these issues at an early stage of drug development. In appropriate conditions N of 1 RCTs can be used to define the rapidity with which a drug begins and ceases its clinical action, the likely range of the optimal drug dose, and the optimal outcomes on which subsequent trials should focus. N of 1 RCTs can also generate initial estimates of the proportion of patients who respond to a new agent and for determining sample size, inclusion criteria, and dosage regimen(s) for subsequent parallel group trials. We provide an example of 14 N of 1 RCTs of amitriptyline in fibrositis that illustrate the ways in which N of 1 RCTs can elucidate these issues. The multiple uses of N of 1 RCTs suggest that the method has immense potential for use in the early phases of drug development programs.
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              A clinician's guide for conducting randomized trials in individual patients.

              In determining optimal treatment for a patient conventional trials of therapy are susceptible to bias. Large-scale randomized trials can provide only a partial guide and have not been or cannot be carried out for most clinical disorders. However, randomized controlled trials (RCTs) in individual patients (N of 1 RCTs) may in some circumstances provide a solution to this dilemma. In an N of 1 RCT a patient undergoes pairs of treatment periods (one period of each pair with the active drug and one with matched placebo, assigned at random); both the patient and the clinician are blind to allocation, and treatment targets are monitored. N of 1 RCTs are useful for chronic, stable conditions for which the proposed treatment, which has a rapid onset of action and ceases to act soon after it is discontinued, has shown promise in an open trial of therapy. The monitoring of treatment targets usually includes quantitative measurement of the patient's symptoms with the use of simple patient diaries or questionnaires. Pairs of treatment periods are continued until effectiveness is proved or refuted. The cooperation of a pharmacy is required for the preparation of matching placebos and conduct of the trial. Formal statistical analysis may be helpful for interpreting the results. The practical approach presented in this paper allows clinicians to conduct their own N of 1 RCTs.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                J Pain Res
                J Pain Res
                Journal of Pain Research
                Journal of Pain Research
                Dove Medical Press
                1178-7090
                2019
                14 January 2019
                : 12
                : 345-352
                Affiliations
                [1 ]Institute for Neuropathic Pain, Bosch en Duin, The Netherlands, jan@ 123456neuropathie.nu
                [2 ]Institute for Neuropathic Pain, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
                [3 ]Pain Management Centre, Charing Cross Hospital Imperial Healthcare NHS Trust, London, UK
                Author notes
                Correspondence: Jan M Keppel Hesselink, Institute for Neuropathic Pain, Spoorlaan 2a, 3735 MV, Bosch en Duin, The Netherlands, Tel +31 65 170 0527, Email jan@ 123456neuropathie.nu
                Article
                jpr-12-345
                10.2147/JPR.S180792
                6338124
                © 2019 Keppel Hesselink et al. This work is published and licensed by Dove Medical Press Limited

                The full terms of this license are available at https://www.dovepress.com/terms.php and incorporate the Creative Commons Attribution – Non Commercial (unported, v3.0) License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/). By accessing the work you hereby accept the Terms. Non-commercial uses of the work are permitted without any further permission from Dove Medical Press Limited, provided the work is properly attributed.

                Categories
                Perspectives

                Anesthesiology & Pain management

                enrichment, treatment, topical, trial, ethics

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