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Researchers in Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences (NDCN) have begun a clinical trial to assess whether the drug sildenafil could improve blood flow to the brain.

Model of a human brain © Robina Weermeijer, Unsplash

University of Oxford researchers have begun a clinical trial to assess whether the drug sildenafil, more commonly known by its commercial name Viagra, could improve blood flow to the brain and so have the potential to reduce damage to small blood vessels in the brain and prevent strokes.

Chronic damage to small blood vessels deep in the brain is found in half of patients over the age of 60 and almost all patients over the age of 80, and is responsible for up to a third of strokes and around 40 percent of dementia.​

Dr Alastair Webb, of the Wolfson Centre for Prevention of Stroke and Dementia (NDCN), based at the John Radcliffe Hospital, is leading the study. He explained: “There is limited evidence for how this small vessel disease develops and no specific treatment.”

“We aim to test whether sildenafil has the potential to reduce small vessel damage.”

Potential explanations for how small vessel disease develops include: a greater change in blood pressure with each beat of the heart (pulsatility), which hits the brain with increased force with each beat; or a reduced ability of the blood vessels in the brain to adapt to changes in the environment, also known as their reactivity.

Read more (Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences website)

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