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Not funny when it’s you: drug might cure erections that don’t stop

Oct. 1, 2013
Courtesy of the Federation of American 
Societies for Experimental Biology 
and World Science staff

It’s not the lit­tle blue pill fa­mous for help­ing men get big re­sults, but for those who need it, it might be even more im­por­tant. 

A new re­port of­fers hope to men who suf­fer pri­ap­ism—a con­di­tion caus­ing erec­tions so long-lasting that they can dam­age the pe­nis per­ma­nent­ly. It’s of­ten seen in men with sick­le cell dis­ease.

An ex­pe­ri­men­tal drug called C6 of­fered mice re­lief from pri­a­pism by nor­mal­iz­ing lev­els of ni­tric ox­ide, a gas that is in the blood of the pe­nis and else­where, sci­en­tists said. C6’s ac­tion could al­so eventually shed light on vas­cu­lar and cir­cu­la­to­ry dis­or­ders such as hy­per­ten­sion, they added.

The study sug­gests “con­trolled, phys­i­o­logic re­lease of ni­tric ox­ide… may treat con­di­tions of al­tered ni­tric ox­ide sig­nal­ing or func­tion,” said Gwen Lagoda of Johns Hop­kins Med­i­cal In­sti­tu­tions in Bal­ti­more, one of the re­searchers. 

Ni­tric ox­ide acts as a “mes­sen­ger” mol­e­cule that car­ries in­struc­tions among cells. It has a key role in reg­u­lat­ing blood flow.

The sci­en­tists stud­ied lab mice with ab­nor­mal erec­tions re­sult­ing from ab­nor­mal ni­tric ox­ide sig­nal­ing. The ab­nor­mal­i­ties stemmed from sick­le cell dis­ease in one of two groups of these mice. C6 treat­ment re­duced the mo­lec­u­lar ab­nor­mal­i­ties and re­turned erec­tile func­tion to near-normal, the in­vesti­gat­ors said.

“When peo­ple think of ‘E.D.,’ they of­ten think of an in­abil­ity to achieve or main­tain an erec­tion,” said Ger­ald Weiss­mann, editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Jour­nal, which pub­lished the study on­line Sept. 27. “What they don’t real­ize is that there can be oth­er prob­lems as well. Pri­a­pism is a dan­ger­ous and pain­ful form of erec­tile dysfunc­tion that is over­looked. Hope­fully this com­pound will be just as ef­fec­tive in peo­ple as it was in mice.”

Current treatments for priap­ism include ice packs and in­ject­ions into the pe­nis. Pria­pism can last from four hours to a few days and oc­curs with­out sexual stim­ulation. Men suffering it are urged to treat it as an em­erg­ency and get medical care immediately
. If treat­ment is prompt, pros­pects are good, but otherwise a man’s chances of getting nor­mal erec­tions in the fu­ture might va­nish.

* * *

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It’s not the little blue pill famous for helping men get big results, but for those who need it, it might be even more important. A new report offers hope to men who suffer priapism—a condition causing erections so long-lasting that they can damage the penis permanently. It’s often seen in men with sickle cell disease. An experimental drug called C6 offered mice relief from priapism by normalizing levels of nitric oxide, a gas that is in the blood of the penis and elsewhere, scientists said. C6’s action could also eventually shed light on vascular and circulatory disorders such as hypertension, they added. The study suggests “controlled, physiologic release of nitric oxide… may treat conditions of altered nitric oxide signaling or function,” said Gwen Lagoda of Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in Baltimore, one of the resarchers. Nitric oxide acts as a “messenger” molecule that carries instructions among cells. It has a key role in regulating blood flow. The scientists studied lab mice with abnormal erections resulting from abnormal nitric oxide signaling. The abnormalities stemmed from sickle cell disease in one of two groups of these mice. C6 treatment reduced the molecular abnormalities and returned erectile function to near-normal, they said. “When people think of ‘E.D.,’ they often think of an inability to achieve or maintain an erection,” said Gerald Weissmann, editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal, which published the study online Sept. 27. “What they don’t realize is that there can be other problems as well. Priapism is a dangerous and painful form of erectile dysfunction that is overlooked. Hopefully this compound will be just as effective in people as it was in mice.” erections that won’t stop