Could Viagra Be The Breakthrough For Bone Marrow Transplant?
Viagra is at the centre of attention as some researchers at the University of California believe this drug could enhance bone marrow transplants.
Bone marrow transplants are operations done to restore the stem cells that generate new blood cells in a patient. It is a procedure that’s used mostly in the treatment of cancer.
The traditional method of obtaining cells (hematopoietic stem cells ) for transplants required drilling into the hip bone to reach the bone marrow. After drilling, the stem cells are removed directly from the bone marrow with a (special) needle. The new method uses drugs to get the stem cells from the bone marrow into the bloodstream, from where they are collected.
The drug (such as GCSF) is injected daily for 4 – 6 days allowing the stem cells to move from the marrow to the bloodstream for collection. The drug is a growth factor that stimulates bone marrow growth, which then avails more stem cells. The process, however, isn’t always successful and has side effects such as bone pain. Its side effects also reduce the number of donors since the elderly, the sick and those with sickle cell disease cannot donate.
Research into bone marrow operation has led to the pursuit of saving on the time spent during the harvest process. Forsberg has determined that making blood vessels more porous by the use of drugs can speed up harvesting.
Viagra is the drug that has taken center stage in this new development. It is claimed to mobilize stem cells within 2 hours after an oral dose and injection of Plerixafor.
Mice were the subjects in this study done at Forsberg’s lab. Viagara was used combined with plerixafor on the mice. The mix produced lesser stem cells than the standard treatment but in just 2 hours had enough stem cells for a transplant. The new regimen saved on time from the usual five days.
The new drug combination, according to Forsberg, is quicker and less invasive, which may encourage healthy volunteers to donate stem cells for those in need. Its also supposed to help sickle cells patients treat their symptoms and prepare for self donated transplant.
Sickle cell patients before would have their cells harvested, which are then edited genetically (through gene therapy) to be healthy and finally injected back. Gene therapy reduces medical costs and prevents life-long morbidity and early mortality that comes with the disease. The procedure aims to reboot the patient’s blood cells.
A significant boost for the research is that both the drugs are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and are relatively inexpensive. This means the use of these drugs clinically could be faster and less expensive.
The drugs, therefore, beat the testing of new compounds never used by humans before, which would have many more processes involved before being in use.
Research is yet to be conducted on humans. Larger animals than mice have been used and have proved the medication to be successful.
The research according to Forsberg’s researchers, has opened the scientific world to the importance of studying older drugs to solve current problems. Viagra, for example, has been around, but its use in this way wasn’t obvious.