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ED Drugs May Treat Muscular Dystrophy

May 08, 2014 12:34 PM EDT
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Drugs traditionally used to treat erectile dysfunction -- such as Viagra or Cialis -- may be very effective at treating Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a recent study suggests.
(Photo : Pixabay)

Drugs traditionally used to treat erectile dysfunction -- such as Viagra or Cialis -- may be effective at treating Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a recent study suggests.

The study, published in Neurology, details how the protein and blood-flow promotion associated with common erectile dysfunction treatments helps regulate blood flow to muscles in patients suffering from muscular dystrophy.

Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) is a rare genetic condition that affects one in every 3,600 male infants worldwide, according to the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA). This debilitating disease causes severe muscle weakness that is a result from insufficient blood flow to the muscle.

The disease is caused by a damaging mutation that inhibits dystophin, a protein that helps maintain healthy muscles. An absence of this protein results in a lack of chemicals in the muscle that would otherwise signal blood vessels to dilate during activity, so that blood flow can increase.

The MDA and other health organizations recommend that DMD and traditional muscular dystrophy be treated with corticosteroids, drugs that slow muscle degradation and help protect the heat and lungs from the adverse effects of restricted blood flow.

However, in an assessment of 10 DMD patients between the ages of 8 and 13, researchers found that while corticosteroid regimens enabled the patients to walk, blood flow still proved abnormal and significantly debilitating, compared to a healthy control group

These same 10 patients were then asked to take sildenafil or tadalafil - the generic versions of Viagra and Cialis respectively - in place of their corticosteroid regimen.

Interestingly, these researchers found that taking these new drug instantaneously improved blood flow in the patients' leg muscles, not only allowing them to walk, but also regulating the blood flow to similar levels as the healthy volunteers involved in the comparative study.

The authors of the study are quick to point out that while these results are encouraging, they do not represent the discovery of a cure, but only the potential for a new type of treatment.

Further research will need to be conducted to verify and capitalize upon these findings.

The study was published in Neurology on May 7.

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