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Viagra, the Future of Stem Cell Transplant?

Viagra, popular for treating erectile dysfunction, might be the key to making stem cell transplant easier

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Viagra could be the key to an easier and less invasive stem cell extraction in the future.

A new study conducted on mice seemed to indicate that Viagra, in combination with a stem cell mobilizer called Plerixafor could make it easier to pull out stem cells from the bone marrow.

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Stem Cell transplant, currently a long and painful procedure, involves extracting stem cells from the bone marrow of the donor using a long needle. Although there is an easier and more tolerable alternative to the process involving the drug Granulocyte Colony Stimulating Factors (GCSF), it is unfortunately not suitable for everyone. For instance, it doesn’t work for people who have undergone chemotherapy or have sickle cell disease.

This limitation is what prompted Stephanie Smith-Berdan and Camilla Forsberg at the University of California Santa Cruz to look for alternatives. The stem cell mobiliser along with viagra pull out stem cells from the bone marrow into the blood stream, making it easier to harvest them.

The study conducted on mice showed a significant increase in the number of circulating stem cells in a matter of two hours.

Viagra, which is one of the most popular drugs for erectile dysfunction, was originally researched for its ability to dilate blood vessels which is why it was the choice of drug for the test. The more permeable the blood vessels around the bone marrow, the easier it will be for stem cells to move into the blood stream. Viagra opens the blood vessels and makes it more permeable.

If proven effective on humans, this could have significant implications for stem cell donation and transplant. Not only would it greatly reduce the time of the procedure but also make it much less painful and invasive. According to Camilla Forsberg, as a result, it might also attract more donors.

“Although it’s too early to say if this treatment will work on humans, it’s a logical approach” says David Porter, Professor in Leukemia Care Excellence at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania

However, Camilla Forsberg, a professor of bio-molecular engineering at the University of California, Santa Cruz is optimistic of the results as the tests would be fairly easy to conduct on humans as the drugs involved are already FDA approved as well as cheaply available.

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