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Medical doctor evaluating a football player.

College Football Player Studies how Viagra May Affect TBI

Studies are exploring whether sildenafil, the active ingredient in Viagra, could help men with traumatic brain injury to stimulate blood flow to damaged areas of the brain. 

Viagra isn’t just for erectile dysfunction anymore. That isn’t exactly news, but it does reflect the increasing versatility of sildenafil, Viagra’s active ingredient, in the treatment of disorders seemingly unrelated to ED.

One of the most recent areas of interest in sildenafil’s medicinal properties is traumatic brain injury (TBI), a condition thrust into the spotlight by a growing realization that it’s a very real threat to football players.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, TBI-related visits to hospital emergency departments increased by 53 percent from 2006 to 2014. Even more alarming, TBI is a factor in the deaths of roughly 155 Americans each day.

What Causes a TBI?

According to the CDC, a TBI is caused by “a bump, blow, or jolt to the head that disrupts the normal function of the brain.” Such injuries can range from relatively mild to life-threatening. And the very nature of football playing exposes its players to enormous amount of TBI-like damage during their active playing years.

To learn more about the potential of sildenafil for treating TBI, University of Pennsylvania student Justin Morrison, a kick returner for Penn’s football team, recently joined a study into the subject as a research intern.

What Researchers Hope to Find

As regular readers of this blog know, sildenafil temporarily improves blood flow to the penis, allowing men with vascular-related ED a window of time during which they can get and keep an erection. Researchers hope that sildenafil might prove helpful in reducing the damage done to the microvasculature of the brain by the traumatic head injuries typically seen in football players.

Interviewed by the Philadelphia Inquirer about the research study, Morrison noted that “chronic traumatic encephalopathy [CTE] is a big issue in football.” He added that he hopes the study produces findings that will help develop better treatments for brain injury but said that the research is still in its earliest stages.

Another Study Under Way in Texas

The University of Pennsylvania study in which Morrison is participating is not the only such research being done. Researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center are exploring sildenafil’s ability to stimulate renewed activity in the brains of patients suffering from traumatic cerebral vascular injury (TCVI), a subtype of TBI.

The Texas study recruited professional boxers who like football players are subjected to repeated head injury and are also highly susceptible to TBI.

Five-Week Dosing Period

In the Penn study, which is being conducted in collaboration with Boston University, study participants are being treated for a period of five weeks with sildenafil. It is hoped that the drug will help to stimulate cerebrovascular reactivity in patients who have suffered traumatic brain injury.

This latest research is yet another step forward in the ongoing exploration into the medicinal properties of sildenafil and other PDE5 inhibitors. While these drugs have proved highly successful in the treatment of ED, it seems their ability to optimize blood flow, even temporarily, also could help to treat a number of other ailments in which impaired blood flow is a key factor.

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Although Viagra and other ED drugs have been found useful in the treatment of a variety of ailments, they remain best known for their role in the temporary restoration of erectile function in impotent men.

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