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Scientists in the US have said that users of sildenafil, the generic name for Viagra, are 69 per cent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s Disease than non-users. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of age-related dementia and affects millions of people around the world. At present, there is no effective treatment.

Inverse reports that researchers at the Cleveland Clinic used a large gene-mapping network that integrated genetic and other data to help determine which of more than 1,600 drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the US version of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), that could be used as an effective treatment for the disease.

The researchers scored the drugs, giving higher scores to those that target both amyloid and tau, two hallmarks of Alzheimer’s Disease, rather than just targeting one or the other.

Dr Feixiong Cheng, the lead on the study, which was published in the scientific journal Nature Ageing, said: “Sildenafil, which has been shown to significantly improve cognition and memory in preclinical models, presented as the best drug candidate.”

Dr Cheng and his team then used a database of claims from more than seven million US citizens to look closely at the relationship between sildenafil and Alzheimer’s Disease outcomes by comparing sildenafil users to non-users.

They found sildenafil users were 69 per cent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than non-sildenafil users after six years of follow-up.

So the researchers could look deeper into the potential effect of sildenafil on Alzheimer’s, they developed a lab model that showed that sildenafil increased brain cell growth and targeted tau proteins, which provided insights into how it might influence disease-related brain changes.

However, Dr Cheng cautioned that the study did not demonstrate a causal relationship between sildenafil and Alzheimer’s Disease, saying that randomised clinical trials involving both sexes with a placebo control were needed to determine sildenafil’s efficacy.

Away from the study, Dr Ivan Koychev, a senior clinical researcher at the University of Oxford said it was an ‘exciting’ development because ‘it points to a specific drug which may offer a new approach to treating the condition’.

However, others think there were still several important limitations that needed to be considered.

Prof Tara Spires-Jones, deputy director of the Centre for Discovery Brain Sciences at the University of Edinburgh, said:“ While these data are interesting scientifically, based on this study, I would not rush out to start taking sildenafil as a prevention for Alzheimer’s disease.”

Dr Susan Kohlhaas, director of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said that repurposing a drug that has already been licensed for other health conditions could help speed up the drug discovery process and help bring about life-changing treatments for dementia far sooner.

“Importantly, this research doesn’t prove that sildenafil is responsible for reducing dementia risk, or that it slows or stops the disease. The only way to test this would be in a large-scale clinical trial measuring sildenafil effect against the usual standard of care,” she said.

Sildenafil was originally developed for the treatment of hypertension (high blood pressure) and angina pectoris (chest pain due to heart disease), and it was discovered during clinical trials that it was effective at inducing erections, and has since become of the leading treatments for erectile dysfunction.

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