A recent study conducted by a team of researchers from the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom has found that a drug that medical doctors usually prescribe for the treatment of erectile dysfunction could also treat heart failure.
Following the prevalence of heart disease in Nigeria, which is put at 34 percent among the adult population, according to the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, with 150,000 deaths annually attributed to the condition, it is pertinent to consider new ways of treating the disease for better patients’ outcome.
According to the study, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted that 5.7 million adults in the United States have heart failure and that approximately half of the people with this condition die within 5 years of receiving their diagnosis.
The findings of the new study, which the researchers conducted in sheep, appeared in the journal Scientific Reports and reported on Medical News Today, confirmed that in people with heart failure, the heart muscle becomes unable to pump out blood efficiently, meaning that some organs may not receive the amount of oxygen that they need to function properly.
Due to this global pandemic of heart failure which affected over 26 million people worldwide including Nigeria, the specialists in health disease decided to find new ways and also make it a priority to treat heart failure.
Prof. Andrew Trafford the team lead of the research and his colleagues decided to focus on tadalafil, which is available under the brand name Cialis among others. This drug falls under the same category as sildenafil, which people commonly refer to by the brand name viagra.
Trafford explained that the researchers have limited evidence from human trials and epidemiological studies that show tadalafil can be effective in treating heart failure.
To conduct the experiment, the researchers studied the effects of the drug in sheep, whose hearts are very similar to those of humans. The team treated the sheep with tadalafil once they had developed heart failure symptoms that were serious enough to require intervention.
Trafford and his colleagues induced heart failure in the animals through the use of a pacesetter, and when they treated them with tadalafil, they gave them doses consistent with what a human patient would usually receive for erectile dysfunction.
After just 3 weeks of tadalafil treatment, the researchers began to notice improvements in the animals that received this drug.
The drug improved the heart’s contraction and almost completely restored its ability to respond to epinephrine, a lack of response to this hormone that causes breathlessness in heart failure.
Trafford explained further saying so far, the researchers have only tested the effects of this drug in sheep, but assures that humans are likely to experience the same benefits.
“This study provides further confirmation, added mechanistic details, and demonstrated that tadalafil could now be a possible therapy for heart failure,” the researcher notes, adding, “It’s entirely possible that some patients taking it for erectile dysfunction have also unwittingly enjoyed a protective effect on their heart.” Prof Trafford added.
The scientists provided an answer to the question why does this drug have a therapeutic effect on heart failure? Tadalafil helps treat erectile dysfunction by acting on a particular enzyme called phosphodiesterase 5. This enzyme plays a key role in determining how different types of tissue interact with hormones, including epinephrine.
In the case of heart failure, the research team noted, tadalafil allows the heart to start responding to epinephrine once more, which means that the heart muscle regains its ability to pump out blood effectively.
These findings are promising because, as Prof. Trafford said, tadalafil “is a widely used and very safe drug with minimal side effects,” but the researcher nevertheless cautions against self-prescription.
“We would not advise the public to treat themselves with the drug, and [they] should always [speak] to their doctor if they have any concerns or questions,” Prof. Trafford emphasized.
“Tadalafil is only suitable as a treatment for systolic heart failure — when the heart is not able to pump properly — and there may be interactions with other drugs patients are taking,” he warned.
Prof. Metin Avkiran, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, which funded the current study, expresses hope that these findings might lead to a better treatment that could not only reduce the symptoms of heart failure but also potentially reverse the condition entirely.
“We need safe and effective new treatments for heart failure. The evidence from this study that a drug like viagra could reverse heart failure should encourage further research in humans to determine if such drugs may help to save and improve lives,” Prof. Metin Avkiran.
“Viagra-type drugs were initially developed as potential treatments for heart disease before they were found to have unexpected benefits in the treatment of erectile dysfunction,” Prof. Avkiran noted.