Viagra (sildenafil) promising Alzheimer’s candidate drug

Using data from insurance claims along with genetics, researchers at the Cleveland Clinic found that Viagra (sildenafil) shows high promise as a drug to treat Alzheimer’s disease (source article: The Guardian).

First, the researchers used a large gene-mapping network to look at data on more than 1,600 Food and Drug Administration-approved drugs. Their goal was to discover any drugs that could be an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.

They gave higher scores to drugs that target both amyloid and tau – two hallmarks of Alzheimer’s – compared with drugs that targeted just one or the other.

“Sildenafil, which has been shown to significantly improve cognition and memory in preclinical models, presented as the best drug candidate,” said Dr. Feixiong Cheng, the study lead. Viagra is the brand name of sildenafil.

The scientists then looked at a database of claims from more than 7 million people in the US to examine the relationship between sildenafil and Alzheimer’s disease outcomes by comparing sildenafil users to non-users.

They found sildenafil users were 69% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than non-sildenafil users after six years of follow-up.

Their last step was to develop a lab model that showed that sildenafil increased brain cell growth and targeted tau proteins, offering insights into how it might influence disease-related brain changes. The findings were published in Nature Aging (link to abstract).

But some cautions are in order! More research is needed. It is not recommended to rush to your doctor and ask for it! As with any drug, it has risks and side effects.

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Dr. Cheng cautioned that the study does not demonstrate a causal relationship between sildenafil and Alzheimer’s disease. Randomized clinical trials involving both sexes with a placebo control are needed to determine sildenafil’s efficacy, he said.

Professor Tara Spires-Jones, deputy director of the Centre for Discovery Brain Sciences at the University of Edinburgh, said there were several important limitations to consider. “While these data are interesting scientifically, based on this study, I would not rush out to start taking sildenafil as a prevention for Alzheimer’s disease.”

Sildenafil was originally intended to treat hypertension (high blood pressure), and it is still used for this condition (brand name Revatio). However, users started to notice its efficacy for erectile dysfunction, and it was approved for this use in 1998 under the brand name Viagra.

[Featured image credit, Alzheimer’s Association]

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