New use for an old drug

Researcher to test potential therapy for Duchenne muscular dystrophy

Dr. Sean Forbes with UF’s 4.7 Tesla magnet, used for MRI imaging. Photo by Jesse S. Jones.

Sean Forbes, Ph.D., has received a $180,000 grant from the Muscular Dystrophy Association to study whether a drug that improves muscle blood flow could slow the progression of Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

“Muscles in children with Duchenne muscular dystrophy are missing a key enzyme that normally increases blood flow and oxygen during and following muscle contractions,” said Forbes, a postdoctoral associate in the College of Public Health and Health Professions’ department of physical therapy. “This reduced blood flow puts additional stress on the muscle and may contribute to damage that cannot be adequately repaired. This ultimately leads to reduced strength and loss of function, such as the ability to walk.”

Duchenne muscular dystrophy causes muscles to progressively weaken and lose the ability to regenerate after an injury. By age 12, many patients need a wheelchair. The life expectancy for patients with Duchenne is late teens or early 20s.

Forbes will test the effect of the drug sildenafil citrate, commonly known as Viagra, on blood flow in mouse muscle and its ability to prevent muscle damage. He uses magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, to produce precise, non-invasive images of the muscle.

“This study could provide support for using sildenafil citrate as a treatment for Duchenne muscular dystrophy,” Forbes said. “We are hopeful that this treatment may improve strength, function and quality of life, and possibly extend life in individuals with Duchenne.”

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