Viagra shows promise in
treating stroke, researchers say
Posted Feb. 17, 2005
Courtesy Henry Ford Health System
and World Science staff
A hospital has launched a study to help learn
whether the impotence drug Viagra can help patients recover from a stroke.
The study comes after
experiments suggested the drug helped heal stroke-affected rodents, as well as
possibly a woman with a devastating paralysis of everything but the eyes, the
The study, launched this week at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Mich. and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, aims to help
stroke patients improve motor, speech and thinking skills.
“We realized that we need to look at what we can do to help people who have had a stroke get their lives back,” said Brian Silver,
a neurologist at the hospital and principal investigator for the sudy. The hospital will enroll 84 patients in the
study, who have suffered a moderate stroke.
The hospital has tried Viagra, also called sildenafil, on two Michigan patients for neurological
One patient, Rene Jarinski, 43, has taken Viagra since suffering a stroke in July 2003. Transferred to Henry Ford from another hospital, she was diagnosed with locked in syndrome, a very uncommon condition, in which she could only move her eyes up down.
“To my knowledge she is the first patient in the United States who has been treated with Viagra specifically for stroke recovery,” said Silver.
“We’re not certain that Viagra is helping the recovery, but she is now able to smile, eat, move all four limbs and stand up with assistance,” said Silver.
“Things moved slowly in the first couple of months; most of the recovery has come after the sixth month period. This is very uncommon for individuals after stroke who typically see a deceleration in recovery. Individuals with locked in syndrome rarely walk or talk again. Rene is making a recovery that doesn’t follow the normal recovery curve.”
Silver initially communicated with her by having her move her eyes up for yes and down for no.
“For patients like Rene, the usual treatments would be occupational therapy, speech therapy and physical therapy,” said Silver. “Rene’s family asked for anything else beyond the standard of care that could be provided for her. We explained that anything else would be experimental.”
For a number of years the hospital has been researching stroke recovery using Viagra in laboratory animals with good outcomes, Silver said. In this case what had been learned in the lab would be transferred to the bedside.
“What we found is that we can use certain drugs like Viagra to create new brain cells,” said Michael
Chopp, scientific director of the Neuroscience Institute at Henry Ford Hospital.
“When mice and rats with stroke are treated with Viagra, the drug provides very significant functional benefit. These animals do much better. There are far fewer functional deficits. Days later there is reduced neurological deficit and new brain cells,” said
Viagra was selected as the drug to test because it is chemically similar to other compounds shown to improve function in animals after stroke. Chopp said that Viagra activates a molecule called cyclic guanosine monophoshate in brain tissue that creates new cells in the brain.
Each year about 750,000 Americans experience a new or recurrent stroke attack. It is the nation’s third leading cause of death, ranking behind diseases of the heart and all forms of cancer.
Currently, tissue plasminogen activator (t-PA) is the only approved treatment for ischemic stroke – the cause of more than 80 percent of all strokes. But the clot-dissolving drug must be administered within three hours of initial stroke symptoms for effectiveness. In addition, t-PA treatment reaches less than 5 percent of stroke victims.
Chopp is one of only a handful of researchers in the country working on “brain remodeling.” By using different compounds and cell-based therapy, they are able to produce new cells and electrical connections within the brain that help people recover from stroke, or head injury.
“Think of the brain as a house,” said Chopp. “If a tree falls on your house, what you want most is to fix the damage to restore your daily quality of life. Remodeling the brain, like remodeling a house, may require new plumbing, such as new blood vessels; new electrical connections or new synapses; and new rooms or new brain cells in order to regain function.”
Certain drugs like Viagra create new brain cells and these cells are created in both elderly as well as young subjects. When animals with stroke are treated with
Viagra, the drug provides very significant neurological functional benefit, the researchers said. The animals do much better on many different outcome measures, including motor function, neurological outcome and weight gain. There are far fewer functional deficits. Animals treated with Viagra days after stroke had a significant reduction in neurological deficit and a significant induction of new brain cells.
“One can be treated with Viagra, erythropoietin, or statins days after stroke and there is a significant reduction in neurological deficit and a significant induction of new brain cells,” said
Chopp. Similar studies and successful restoration of neurological function after stroke, trauma, and neurodegenerative disease have been performed by Chopp and colleagues. The researchers are asking people interested in further information on the study to call 313-916-7435.