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Wonder of little blue pill may reach beyond 'Merthyr effect'.

A decade and a half after Viagra's most famous use was discovered during clinical trials in Wales, scientists believe it could be used to treat everything from multiple sclerosis to Alzheimer's.

It was 15 years ago this week that scientists realised Viagra could be a "wonder drug" to cure impotency after noticing unexpected side-effects during tests on the men of Merthyr Tydfil.

Now, as the "little blue pill" celebrates its birthday, manufacturers Pfizer say it could also be used as a treatment for afflictions like diabetes and strokes, and even as a way of extending the life of cut flowers.

Conditions being looked at for possible Viagra treatment include jet lag, heart failure, multiple sclerosis, pain, premature birth, chronic pelvic pain, memory loss, Raynaud's syndrome, strokes and Alzheimer's disease.

Researchers in Israel have even found adding a pinch of Viagra to cut flowers can make them last twice as long.

The drug works in humans because it causes smooth muscle cells of blood vessels to relax.

The original idea was that by increasing blood flow and allowing blood vessels to fill with more blood it would decrease overall blood pressure. But when the "Merthyr effect" was noticed its fame became infinitely greater, and it appears likely to have an even more prominent future.

A number of studies have shown it improves memory - no one knows how yet but one theory is it improves blood flow to the brain, raises glucose levels and so increases processing making it ideal to treat Alzheimer's.

Researchers in Maryland in the US are using Viagra as a possible treatment for Raynaud's syndrome, a painful condition affecting the fingers and toes which can lead to gangrene.

Auburn University in Alabama is looking at ways of stopping neuro-degradation caused by multiple sclerosis using Viagra.

More than 80 stroke patients are being given Viagra in a trial starting this month in Detroit. Doctors believe that if given within three days of a stroke, it could help men and women regain and improve movement, speech and thinking.

Viagra may speed up recovery from jet lag, according to research at the Universidad Nacional de Quilmes in Buenos Aires. Researchers there noticed the brain's master clock can be protected from confusion by use of Viagra.

The story of Viagra - otherwise known as Sildenafil Citrate - began in Pfizer's laboratories in Sandwich, Kent in 1985.

The company was looking for ways to ease high blood pressure, responsible for millions of deaths the world over because of its link to heart attacks and strokes.

By 1992, Pfizer came up with compound UK92-480 which it thought could also be used to treat hypertension and also angina.

Merthyr Tydfil, having one of the country's largest incidences of heart disease, was chosen for a tolerance study. It meant healthy volunteers receiving three 25mg doses per day for 10 days.

But there was little effect on blood pressure, forearm blood flow and cardiac activity so the compound could easily have been consigned to the trial drug dustbin.

But Pfizer lead scientist Michael Allen got a telephone call from the Merthyr GP overseeing the trial.

He said, "He mentioned that at 50mg taken every eight hours for 10 days, there were episodes of indigestion and aches in patients' backs and legs.

"And he said, 'Oh, there are also some reports of penile erections'."

Five years and much research later, Pfizer applied for marketing approval for the drug - not for angina, but for male impotence.

Ten years on, and Viagra has been used by more than 30 million men worldwide for erectile dysfunction (and was promoted by Brazilian soccer star Pele).

Previously, male impotence was treated by injections, implants and pumps, more likely to kill the mood than fix the problem.

And the drug has not only made millions of people happier and made Merthyr famous for more than its industrial past and links with the Osmond family.

Now, Pfizer says Viagra could turn out to be as versatile as that other wonder drug, aspirin.
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Sep 6, 2007
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