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Viagra: Good for the Brain, Too?

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Feb. 8, 2002 -- Viagra, the drug best known for reviving men's sex lives, may also revitalize the brain, according to new research. An animal study suggests that the anti-impotence drug can reduce the effects of stroke by helping the brain heal itself.

"What we found is that we can use certain drugs like Viagra to create new brain cells," said study author Michael Chopp, PhD, scientific director of the Neuroscience Institute at Henry Ford Hospital, in a news release. "And these cells are created in both elderly as well as young subjects."

Chopp presented his research today at the 27th International Stroke Conference in San Antonio, Texas. He says Viagra was selected for testing in stroke treatment because it is chemically similar to other compounds that have been shown to improve brain function in animals after stroke.

In the study, researchers gave rats Viagra for six days after inducing an ischemic stroke (the most common type of stroke caused by a blockage of an artery that supplies blood to the brain). After 28 days, they found the rats that received the drug grew significantly more new brain cells. The Viagra-treated rats also performed better on agility, sensory, and muscle function tests.

"When animals are treated with Viagra, the drug provides very significant ... benefit [to the brain]. These animals do better on many different outcome measures," said Chopp.

Researchers say additional studies have also shown that Viagra given one day after stroke reduced function problems in animals.

However, human clinical trials to test Viagra as a treatment after stroke are still a long way off. Additional testing is needed to determine the best time for treatment and screen for adverse effects in rats.

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