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“Viagra may prevent dementia”… Finding correlations with big data modeling

Viagra users reduce the risk of dementia by 69%
Research published in Nature… Large-scale clinical trials are needed

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A study has found that Viagra (ingredient name: sildenafil), an erectile dysfunction drug, may help prevent Alzheimer’s dementia.

This fact was confirmed when a research team led by Professor Feixiong Cheng of the Cleveland Clinic Genomics Research Institute in the U.S. compared and analyzed the dementia incidence rates of Viagra users and non-users through computer modeling based on health insurance benefits data of more than 7 million people. The news agency reported on the 6th.

Alzheimer’s disease, which affects more than 50 million people around the world, has no specific treatment yet.

In June, Aduhelm (ingredient name: aducanumab), developed by Biogen of the US and Eisai of Japan, received new drug approval, but many experts still doubt its efficacy.

The team tried to find a drug that would act on the beta-amyloid and tau proteins known to cause Alzheimer’s.

Beta-amyloid is a protein that protects nerve cells, but when it falls off the cell and forms a lump, it rather damages nerve cells. Tau protein forms nerve fiber aggregates in cells, which also causes damage to nerve cells.

To be effective as a treatment for Alzheimer’s, the research team thought that the drug would have to act on both proteins.

First, a large-scale ‘gene mapping network’ was utilized.

Based on the human gene detoxification information and the interaction map between more than 350,000 proteins, the body part where beta-amyloid and tau proteins act simultaneously was found.

Then, from 1,608 drug ingredients approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), drugs that are effective where the two proteins overlap were selected.

As a result, the sildenafil component of Viagra was predicted to have the highest effect among 14 cardiovascular treatments.

The research team then analyzed the vast amount of patient data registered in the U.S. health insurance system to derive statistics between the use of Viagra and the incidence of dementia.

After analyzing six-year medical records of more than 7 million Americans, the researchers found that sildenafil users had a 69 percent lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s than others.

It was 55-63% lower than the group taking other high blood pressure and diabetes medications.

In particular, patients with underlying conditions related to dementia risk, such as coronary artery disease (heart disease), high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes, tended to have a lower risk of dementia when Viagra was used.

However, it was found that people without these underlying diseases had similar effects.

In addition to Viagra, the research team also compared and analyzed the incidence of dementia between users and non-users of blood pressure drugs losartan, diltiazem, diabetes drugs metformin, and glimepiride, which are known to help prevent dementia.

As a result, the risk of dementia among Viagra users was 55% lower than that of losartan users, 63% lower than metformin, 65% lower than diltiazem, and 64% lower than glimepiride.

The research team exposed the brain cells of dementia patients made with stem cell culture to Viagra in vitro.

As a result, it was found that the growth of brain cells was promoted and the abnormal protein tau in brain neurons related to dementia was reduced.

However, the study did not clearly prove a causal relationship between sildenafil and Alzheimer’s dementia, and emphasized the need for a randomized clinical trial involving both men and women and a placebo-controlled trial.

In particular, the limitation of this study is that Viagra is mainly used for the improvement of erectile dysfunction, so only 2% of the patient data are women. It does not reflect the entire population.

However, this study is drawing attention in that it found the possibility of being used as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease among drugs that have already been approved as a treatment and have been confirmed to be safe.

The so-called ‘reinventing new drug’ research method can save time and money for future clinical trials.

Remdesivir, which was to be developed as a treatment for Ebola, was approved as a treatment for COVID-19, which is a representative example of re-creating a new drug.

Viagra is also a drug whose efficacy was switched when a side effect of male erection was discovered in the process of being initially developed as a treatment for heart disease.

The results of this study were published in the latest issue of the British scientific journal ‘Nature Aging’.

The research team said, “We plan to investigate whether it is effective for other degenerative brain diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Aloy Gehrig’s disease).”

By Shin Jin-ho, reporter sayho@seoul.co.kr

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