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
Arts and Entertainment
Armstrong, left, and Bain's writing credits include Peep Show, Fresh Meat, and The Old Guys
TVThe pair have presented their view of 21st-century foibles in shows such as Peep Show and Fresh Meat
Arts and Entertainment
Keys to success: Andrew and Julian Lloyd Webber
arts + entsMrs Bach had too many kids to write the great man's music, says Julian Lloyd Webber
Sport
footballMan City manager would have loved to have signed Argentine
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
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Mad Max Fury Road (Downloaded from the Warner Bro's media site/Jasin Boland/© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
films'You have to try everything and it’s all a process of elimination, but ultimately you find your path'
Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films
books

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site on Friday

News
people

Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy

News
Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’
news

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch at the premiere of The Imitation Game at the BFI London Film Festival
filmsKeira Knightley tried to miss The Imitation Game premiere to watch Bake Off
News
i100
Sport
Enner Valencia
footballStriker has enjoyed a rapid rise to fame via winning the title with ‘The Blue Ballet’ in Ecuador
Arts and Entertainment
A top literary agent has compared online giant Amazon to Isis
arts + entsAndrew Wylie has pulled no punches in criticism of Amazon
Arts and Entertainment
Charlie Sheen said he would
tv

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

    Mobile Developer (.NET / C# / Jason / Jquery / SOA)

    £40000 - £65000 per annum + bonus + benefits + OT: Ampersand Consulting LLP: M...

    Humanities Teacher - Greater Manchester

    £22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: The JobAt ...

    Design Technology Teacher

    £22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Calling al...

    Foundation Teacher

    £100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: EYFS Teachers - East Essex...

    Day In a Page

    Bryan Adams' heartstopping images of wounded British soldiers to go on show at Somerset House

    Bryan Adams' images of wounded soldiers

    Taken over the course of four years, Adams' portraits are an astonishing document of the aftermath of war
    The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

    The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

    Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
    The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

    Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

    Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
    Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

    What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

    Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
    A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

    Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

    Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
    Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

    'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

    A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

    Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

    The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
    Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

    Paul Scholes column

    Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
    Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

    Frank Warren column

    Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
    Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

    Adrian Heath's American dream...

    Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
    Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

    Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

    Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
    Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

    A Syrian general speaks

    A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities