Drug used to treat erectile dysfunction may have potential for Alzheimer’s

06 December 2021

Scientists have assessed several drugs for existing health conditions to explore their impact on dementia risk. They found that use of sildenafil – common brand name Viagra – was linked to fewer dementia cases in American adults. The scientific journal, Nature Aging, published the findings today (Monday 6 December).

What is sildenafil?

Sildenafil is the generic name for the drug Viagra. It is commonly prescribed to treat erectile dysfunction, but the drug is also used to treat pulmonary hypertension.

What did the researchers do?

Using insurance claims from over seven million American adults, a team of US-based researchers looked at use of several drugs and the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease.

The research team then conducted some lab-based studies. They found in stem cells derived from people with Alzheimer’s, sildenafil reduces the amount of a protein called tau, in experiments done in the lab. During Alzheimer’s, this protein builds up in the brain, causing damage to nerve cells.

What did our expert say?

Dr Susan Kohlhaas, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said
“Developing drugs for diseases like Alzheimer’s, which attack the brain, is a costly process and can take many years. Being able to repurpose a drug already licensed for other health conditions could help speed up the drug discovery process and bring about life-changing dementia treatments sooner.

“While sildenafil is most well-known as a treatment for erectile dysfunction, it’s also used to treat high blood pressure in the lungs. In this study, researchers also found that its use is linked with fewer cases of Alzheimer’s disease in American adults. Due to the conditions Viagra (sildenafil) is predominantly prescribed for, most of the recipients of the drug were male. While the researchers did look at the effect of sildenafil on females, there isn’t enough information to be able to accurately draw conclusions about its effect in females, which account for the majority of Alzheimer’s cases worldwide.

“The researchers have conducted lab-based experiments to give an indication as to why the drug may have impact diseases like Alzheimer’s, but these early-stage experiments would need follow-up in more thorough tests.

“Importantly this research doesn’t prove that sildenafil is responsible for reducing dementia risk, or that it slows or stops the disease. The only way to test this would be in a large-scale clinical trial measuring sildenafil effect against the usual standard of care.

“It’s important that all avenues for potential drugs are investigated thoroughly and the only way to do this is to keep up momentum in dementia research through continued investment.

“If you want to discuss any treatments you are receiving, the first port of call is to speak to your doctor.”

You can read the full paper ‘Endophenotype-based in silico network medicine discovery combined with insurance record data mining identifies sildenafil as a candidate drug for Alzheimer’s disease’ in Nature Aging

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