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Viagra may be the secret to better bone marrow transplants, mouse study finds

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Viagra could help make bone marrow transplants less painful and reduce them from eight to just two hours by opening up blood vessels for easier stem cell collection

  • Researchers gave mice a dose of Viagra followed by an injection of a drug called Plerixaflor used in stem cell transplants
  • Viagra, typically used for erectile dysfunction, helped blood vessels widen while Plerixaflor helped stem cells detach from bone marrow
  • The process took just two hours while a typical bone marrow donation can take up to eight hours  

Viagra may be the secret behind easily obtaining donor stem cells for bone marrow transplants, a new study suggests.

In research conducted in mice, scientists tested a combination of Viagra, the little blue pill commonly used to treat erectile dysfunction, and another drug called Plerixafor, used in stem cell transplants. 

A single oral dose of Viagra followed by an injection of Plerixaflor two hours later caused blood vessels to widen and stem cells to detach from bone marrow in just two hours.

Typical bone marrow donations can take as long as eight hours.    

This could increase the number of bone marrow transplants that are possible, says the team at the University of California Santa Cruz.

A new study from the University of California Santa Cruz gave mice a dose of Viagra (pictured) followed by an injection of another drug. It helped stem cells detach from bone marrow in just two hours

A new study from the University of California Santa Cruz gave mice a dose of Viagra (pictured) followed by an injection of another drug. It helped stem cells detach from bone marrow in just two hours

Only one in about 430 registry members on Be The Match actually end up donating. Many can’t due to genetic blood disorders. 

‘Our approach could significantly increase the number of patients who could benefit from bone marrow transplants,’ said senior author Dr Camilla Forsberg, a professor of biomolecular engineering at UC Santa Cruz.

‘Even though there are already ways to do this, the standard regimen doesn’t work for everyone.’   

Bone marrow is the spongy tissue inside bones where blood cells are made.

Transplants involve taking a donor’s healthy blood-forming cells (called hematopoietic stem cells) and putting them into the patient’s bloodstream.

From there, the stem cells begin to grow and make healthy red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. 

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Currently, patients are given injection of Granulocyte-colony stimulating factor (GCSF), which stimulates the bone marrow to produce stem cells and release them into the bloodstream. 

After four to six days of injections, the stems cells are collected. 

However, this regimen often causes side effects, such as bone pain, in those who need bone marrow transplants.

For example, GCSF worsens the symptoms of patients with sickle-cell disease, which causes red blood cells to become misshapen and break down.

‘If we can make bone marrow transplants a super safe procedure, there are a lot of other disorders for which it could be life-changing, especially for children,’ Dr Forsberg said.

‘Doctors could provide a one-time treatment for conditions that currently have to be managed over a patient’s lifetime.’  

For the study, published in Stem Cell Reports, the team gave mice one dose of Viagra, which helps widen blood vessels.

The mice were then given Plerixafor, which prevents the stem cells from sticking to the bone marrow, allowing scientists to collect them.

‘When you dilate the blood vessels with Viagra, the cells mobilized by Plerixafor are better able to get out into the blood stream,’ said first author Stephanie Smith-Berdan, a research specialist in Dr Forsberg’s laboratory.

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