Possible Viagra Therapy for Sickle Cell Disease

A major new trial begins at Hammersmith Hospital

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Hammersmith Hospital is taking part in a major new international study to find out whether Viagra can be used to treat patients with sickle cell disease.

More than 200 adults and children with sickle cell will be recruited from Hammersmith Hospital and three other London hospitals to undergo a four-month trial of sildenafil, otherwise known as Viagra.

The study will investigate the effects of the drug on the genetic relationship between sickle cell and pulmonary hypertension – an increase of pressure in the pulmonary artery which carries blood from the heart to the lungs.

Paul Senbanjo, 49, is a sickle cell patient. Every couple of months he suffers from what is known as a "crisis", when sickle cells block his blood vessels, preventing the flow of oxygen to affected areas and resulting in extreme pain.

"During a crisis I get pain in my chest and my joints and I can also become breathless and feel dizzy. I have to lie down and rest for a couple of days until it passes," he said.

"But sometimes the crisis can be so bad that I need to go to hospital. There have been times when I have been screaming and crying because the pain has been unbearable. I was nine when I had my first crisis which was very frightening for me and my family."

Sickle cell disease is an inherited and lifelong disorder that affects approximately 12,500 patients in the UK, and is most commonly seen in people whose families come from Africa and the Caribbean.

The new study’s chief investigator in the UK is Dr Simon Gibbs: "The findings of this research will not only be important for our local population in West London, which has a relatively large proportion of people with sickle cell disease, they will be of significance across the world," he said.

Around 30 per cent of sickle cell patients develop pulmonary hypertension, which is thought to increase the risk of death in sickle cell patients by as much as tenfold.

Hammersmith Hospital is working in collaboration with eight large American academic health centres in the study, which will involve more than 1,000 patients.

27 May 2008