Viagra May Help Muscular Dystrophy Patients

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The exact mechanism through which increasing cGMP helps cardiac complications in Duchenne muscular dystrophy patients is not clear, but research is suggestive enough to have spurred a few clinical trials testing Viagra in these patients, says Joseph Beavo, a professor of pharmacology at the University of Washington and a co-author on the study.

Viagra as Double-Duty Drug

Clinical trials are in process to test Viagra in older boys with DMD, but Froehner says his team hopes to test this treatment on younger boys aged 8 to 12 who do not yet show clinically significant heart problems. He says the dosage would most likely be above what is normally given to treat erectile dysfunction.

If clinical trials go well, cardiomyopathy due to Duchenne muscular dystrophy could become yet another off-label use for drug-maker Pfizer's popular ED drug. Though Viagra is already FDA approved, under the name Ravatio, to treat pulmonary hypertension, the drug has been used off-label by doctors for various problems related to circulation and heart function.

Some physicians have use the drug to treat infants with breathing problems with great success, Dr. Jerril Green, a critical care specialist at the Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock, told ABCnews.com. In 2003, Green treated a boy named Chance Collins, then two years old, who was born three months prematurely and suffered from severe lung problems.

"The Viagra opens up the arteries in these children's lungs, allowing blood to flow in more easily," Green said.

Viagra, Cancer, and the Heart

The circulation-boosting effects of Viagra also saved one college student from extensive amputation due to gangrene she developed from bacterial meningitis in 2009. Jamie Schanbaum of Austin, Tex., was 20 when she was brought to the hospital with the condition. With the help of an oxygen chamber and doses of Viagra, only her feet and all fingers except her thumbs had to be removed.

More recently, a study in mice have suggested that Viagra, used in conduction with the drug doxorubicin, may effectively kill prostate cancer cells. Viagra's heart-helping effects also offered protection to patients against the well-known negative heart side effects of doxorubicin.

ABC News' Emily Friedman, Kim Carollo, Joseph Brownstein, and Dan Childs contributed on this report.

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