A new study shows that a drug usually used to treat erectile dysfunction could help boys with the fatal disorder Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
The study, published Wednesday in the journal Neurology, states that doses of Cialis appeared to improve blood flow to the boys' muscles, USA Today reports. The sample size was very small, with just 10 boys taking part, and the drug likely won't change the course of the disease, but the doctors involved believe the promising findings merit further research.
"We had really striking results," says Ronald Victor, a cardiologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and the leader of the study. After the muscle cells were studied, "it looked like a complete correction of the blood flow abnormality."
Duchenne muscular dystrophy is most often discovered in boys between the ages of 4 and 8. Their muscles begin to grow weak because the body is unable to produce a protein called dystrophin, which gives muscles their structure and sends out signals to the cells (including to repair damage done by exercising). People with the disorder usually die in their 20s, or even earlier, when their heart or diaphragm (both muscles) gives out.
There were some side effects during the trial, as to be expected; many of the subjects had prolonged erections while on the drug, although the boys told researchers they were not painful. When a lower dose was taken, the Cialis seemed to normalize blood flow to the skeletal muscles, USA Today reports, and a higher dose allowed the muscles to recover after exercise. Another erectile dysfunction drug, Viagra, was also tested, but it had to be taken as much as three times a day — more often than the Cialis — and could not be taken with food.