Blue wonder: Happy birthday Viagra

Viagra doesn't just save sex lives, it can also treat jet lag, MS and strokes. Roger Dobson on the fifteenth birthday of a modern-day wonder drug

Exactly 15 years ago, Michael Allen took a call from a doctor in a small Welsh town that gave the first hint of a revolution to come. The doctor had been running a small clinical trial testing a new drug to treat angina. The future for the drug, known as UK-92480. was looking bleak: other trials had showed that it did not have much impact on the disease, and indeed was less effective than existing treatments.

When the doctor gave his progress report to Allen, clinical project manager at drug giant Pfizer, he mentioned some side effects among the healthy volunteers in the trial in Merthyr Tydfil. These included indigestion, back pain – and, the doctor added, erections.

Five years and much research later, Pfizer applied for marketing approval for the drug – not for angina, but for male impotence. Ten years on, and Viagra has been used by more than 30 million men worldwide for erectile dysfunction.

It is also finding a host of new uses, too. The drug that nearly didn't make it is being used or investigated for the treatment of more than a dozen diseases and health problems. Researchers say it could turn out to be as versatile as Aspirin.

Conditions being assessed for treatment with Viagra include jet lag, heart failure, premature ejaculation, diabetes symptoms, multiple sclerosis, pain, premature birth, chronic pelvic pain, memory loss, Reynaud's phenomenon, and strokes.

In Egypt, Viagra has been used to save unconsummated marriages; in Argentina, it has been investigated as a new therapy for jet lag; in Israel, researchers have found that it can help cut flowers survive for longer.

Jet lag

Viagra may speed up recovery from jet lag, according to research at the Universidad Nacional de Quilmes in Buenos Aires. The brain's master clock controls the sleep-wake cycle by releasing hormones and neurotransmitters that regulate a wide range of functions. It's thought that an enzyme called cGMP plays a role in the regulation of the clock; Viagra boosts its effects by stopping it from being broken down by another enzyme, PDE5. The researchers found that animals injected with the drug adapted faster to light changes, suggesting that Viagra speeds up the time it takes the body clock to adapt to jet lag.

Erectile dysfunction

Now approved by regulatory authorities in more than 20 countries, Viagra was the first effective oral therapy available to men with erectile dysfunction. Until its release, the mainstays of therapy were injections and vacuum erection devices. In men with the condition, the nerves or blood vessels that play a part in the erection process don't work properly. The drug works by increasing the blood flow to the penis. According to a report from Auburn University in Alabama, the drug can combat impotence resulting from a wide range of causes, including side effects from other drugs, psychological problems, ageing, and diseases like type-2 diabetes, Parkinson's disease, depression and kidney failure.

Stroke

More than 80 stroke patients are being given Viagra in a trial starting this month in Detroit. Doctors believe that if given within three days of a stroke, the drug could help both men and women regain and improve movement, speech and thinking via its effect on the molecule cGMP, which is thought to create new cells in the brain. The trial follows successful work with animals and a small number of patients. "What we found is that we can use Viagra to create new brain cells," said Dr Michael Chopp, scientific director of the Neuroscience Institute at the hospital. "When animals with stroke are treated with Viagra, the drug provides very significant neurological functional benefit. They do much better."

Underweight babies

Doctors have been using Viagra in a trial with pregnant women as a therapy for intrauterine growth restriction, in which the fetus is smaller than expected for the number of weeks of the pregnancy. The condition is estimated to affect around 5 per cent of births in the UK. It's thought that the drug increases blood supply to the womb and placenta so that more nutrients and oxygen get through to the fetus, which can then carry on growing in the womb and is not born as prematurely as it might otherwise have been. Viagra works in this case by acting on an enzyme called PDE-5, which allows blood vessels to expand and increases blood flow to the baby.

In Israel, a trial is underway where pregnant women will be given 25mg of Viagra. If doing so allows the babies to spend just a few more days in the womb, this could make a big difference to the child's long-term health.

Multiple sclerosis

Estimated to affect more than 85,000 people in the UK – twice as many women as men – MS is the most common disabling disease of the central nervous system in young adults. MS is thought to be caused when the immune system attacks the sheaths that protect our nerves. The damage caused disrupts the way that messages are carried to and from the brain, interfering with a wide range of body functions.

An Auburn University report suggested that Viagra may protect against some degeneration: "It has been shown to protect multiple sclerosis patients from neurodegeneration through increased grey matter perfusion in the brain," the researchers said.

Memory and learning

A number of studies have suggested that taking Viagra can boost memory and learning skills. Just how it does so, however, it not clear. One theory is that it triggers increased blood flow and improved glucose processing in the brain; another is that levels of cGMP, which Viagra increases, have to be kept high for peak learning ability.

Production of cGMP decreases with age and may contribute to age-related memory decline, according to Auburn University researchers: "Viagra offers a new strategy for memory improvement and a novel therapy for Alzheimer's disease in the future," they say.

Unconsummated marriages

Doctors at Cairo University Hospital have successful used Viagra to tackle the tricky problem of unconsummated marriages. Of the 35 patients in one study, 32 were able to overcome their marital problems after taking Viagra. In all, 23 patients needed the drug for less than a month, five for up to three months and four for longer than that. "The aim was to evaluate the effectiveness of short-term use in the management of unconsummated marriages diagnosed to be mainly psychogenic in origin," said the researchers. "Viagra is effective as a short-term treatment option in the management of unconsummated marriages."

Raynaud's phenomenon

A common, painful condition, caused by an interruption of blood flow to the fingers or other extremities, in severe cases Raynaud's phenomenon can lead to gangrene. A number of trials have shown that Viagra can be highly effective in treating it, both for men and women. One trial showed a halving of symptoms; in another, the symptoms of some patients disappeared altogether. "I have successfully treated 10 patients with Raynaud's phenomenon, using Viagra," said Dr Jack Lichtenstein, who carried out his study in Maryland. "In all patients, the results ranged from an excellent response to complete relief of symptoms." It is thought that Viagra works here by increasing blood flow and returning circulation to the affected areas.

Heart failure

Research in Italy suggested that Viagra improves the ability of patients with heart failure to exercise. The drug increased oxygen uptake, reduced pressure in the arteries, and improved the working of the lungs, said the Milan University researchers. Again, it's thought that the drugs does so by increasing levels of nitric oxide.

Wilting flowers

When researchers at Bar-Ilan University in Israel put cut flowers in a weak solution of Viagra – one-fiftieth the amount taken by men for impotence – the flowers survived for two weeks instead of one. They suspect the Viagra works through its effects on nitric oxide, which is also how the drug treats erectile dysfunction.

Pain

"Viagra has been shown to have immense potential for the treatment of pain in animals and humans," said pharmacologists at Auburn University.

Diabetes

Research on 40 men at the Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social in Mexico showed that Viagra lowered levels of compounds associated with heart disease in patients with type-2 diabetes. The drug also improved glucose control.

News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
News
Boris Johnson may be manoeuvring to succeed David Cameron
i100
News
peopleHis band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
News
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
science
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Life and Style
fashionPart of 'best-selling' Demeter scent range
News
i100
Sport
Tom Cleverley
footballLoan move comes 17 hours after close of transfer window
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Science Teacher Urgently required for October start

    £6720 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Nottingham: We are currently recr...

    ICT Teacher

    £120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Group: We are looking for an outstandi...

    Art & Design Teacher

    £120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Group: We are looking for an outstandi...

    Assistant Management Accountant -S/West London - £30k - £35k

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: We are working with an exciting orga...

    Day In a Page

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering