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Viagra could one day improve our stem cell transplantation



The long history of sildenafil citrate, known under the brand name Viagra, could include another chapter. Researchers at the University of California at Santa Cruz believe that the drug can improve the performance of bone marrow transplants. This is part of a combination therapy that allows physicians to extract stem cells from patients faster and safer than the traditional method. So far, however, it has only been tested on mice.

It was known that Viagra was not a drug for erectile dysfunction. Because of its action in opening blood vessels (what scientists call a vasodilator), it was originally studied as a means of treating high blood pressure and relieving chest pain caused by heart disease. However, in human studies, it quickly became clear that sildenafil better promotes male erections, leading to its re-naming as a small blue pill.

However, according to study author Camilla For sberg, there is a possibility that sildenafil could be recycled again for something else.

"A shorter and easier treatment can make it much easier to get healthy volunteers to donate stem cells to needy patients."

Different types of stem cells are used in medicine. Most commonly, stem cells from our bone marrow are used, or hematopoietic stem cells, to restore a healthy supply of progenitor and adult blood cells. Currently, doctors typically collect stem cells for a bone marrow transplant from the bloodstream of a donor. However, because not enough stem cells usually hang nearby, people need to take medication for several days to stimulate bone marrow growth.

This method works most of the time, but not always, and the drug has some nasty side effects that prevent some people from even using it, such as: B. those who are already sick, are older or suffer from sickle cell disease. This is particularly important because doctors can also use a person's own stem cells for transplantation, thereby avoiding the risk of rejection of a donor's cells.

Illustration of how the procedure works compared to standard mobilization. Smith-Berdan et al. ( Stem Cell Reports )

Forsberg and other researchers had previously found evidence that you could accelerate the harvesting process by using drugs that make blood vessels more porous and lead to their latest discoveries will be published on Thursday in Stem Cell Reports.

"The goal was to test whether known and approved vascular drugs could be reused to lure the bone marrow hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells – and this turned out to be correct," she told Gizmodo via email ,

] In experiments with mice, they used sildenafil in combination with another drug that stimulates bone marrow growth but is not effective enough alone, the so-called plerixafor. In these mice, the combination method could not persuade as many stem cells as in standard treatment, but the team was able to gain enough stem cells for a successful transplant in just two hours instead of the normally five days (the time axis) is the same for mice and humans).

An image of a mouse clutching Viagra, created by the research team.
Chart : University of California, Santa Cruz

"Our two-drug strategy is much faster and less invasive than standard treatment," said Fors Mountain Gizmodo via email, "And I think a shorter and easier treatment This could make it much easier to get healthy volunteers to donate stem cells to patients in need. "

For people with sickle cell disease, Sildenafil could even help treat their symptoms while preparing them for a self-donated transplant. that could be very useful in the near future. In recent years, scientists have experimented to harvest the stem cells of sickle cell patients, genetically engineer them to be healthy, and reinsert them to restart their blood cells – an effective cure that some has shown early successes. Forsberg's method, if it continues to be promising in larger animals and possibly humans, could increase the number of patients with sickle cells eligible for this treatment.

Berg's lab does not directly study humans, but she says she's already referring to doctors who will be working on studies together in the near future. And because both drugs are already approved by the FDA (and in the case of Sildenafil patent-free and cheaper), this research should ideally proceed faster than usual. In the meantime, she said, her work is an example of why it is important for scientists to further investigate older medicines.

"Viagra has been around for a long time, but it was not obvious that it could be used for this indication," she said. "I think one lesson to learn is that basic research can be productive and exciting with one eye on the unexpected and the other eye on translation."


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