Cork doctors trialling Viagra benefits during pregnancy

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A group of Cork doctors have initiated a potentially ground-breaking trial, as they seek to test the benefits of Viagra to pregnant women whose children are suffering from growth restriction.

Professor Louise Kenny, of the Irish Centre for Fetal and Neonatal Translational Research, and other obstetricians wondered if the effects of the drug could help to increase blood flow in the womb to help foetuses struggling to grow.

The STRIDER trial aims to determine whether taking sildenafil citrate improves the outcome in pregnancies complicated by severe early-onset intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) without increasing risk to mother.

IUGR can sometimes make fetal growth slow down or stop altogether because of poorly functioning placenta, and can cause chromosomal or structural abnormalities.

The idea behind the trial is that the benefits of sildenafil could increase vital blood flow to the foetus, as well as opening up blood vessels to create more room in the womb.

The trial has begun across Canada, New Zealand and Australia, the Netherlands and the UK, where Professor Kenny co-ordinated the trial from Liverpool, and is now set to be launched across six maternity wards in Ireland.

Project manager of the Strider trial Dr Yvonne Clune told the Irish World: “The STRIDER trial in Ireland is being funded by the Health Research Board, and it’s just about to begin, we’re putting everything into place over six different hospitals. The trial will last about two years, but there are already 30 volunteers in England which is great.

“IUGR is within the early stages of pregnancy and normally picked up around the 20-week ultra scan. The condition does lead to some complications during pregnancy such as pre-term delivery, still-birth and serious problems soon after birth and even as the child grows into childhood and adulthood.

“The longer you can keep the baby in the womb the better. Research shows that even one day can make a beneficial difference and for many obstetricians it is a balancing act to see what is best for mother and baby when deciding on when to deliver.

“We have reason to believe that the STRIDER trial may mean that babies could stay in the womb for perhaps an extra week in these situations, as action like Viagra, or sildenafil, relaxes blood vessels and increase blood flow in cases where the placenta is restricted. which means the situation is more relaxed.”

At present in the UK, women whose unborn children are failing to thrive due to poor blood supply to the placenta are being invited to participate.

The trial will be conducted in large maternity units across England. During a 24 month period, all women carrying a fetus diagnosed with severe IUGR before 30 weeks of pregnancy will be invited to participate. It is anticipated that around 50 per cent of eligible women will agree to participate and 112 women will be given either oral sildenafil or matching placebo tablets until delivery, or 32 weeks of pregnancy, whichever comes first.

It is expected that babies exposed to sildenafil will be delivered one week later compared to those exposed to placebo. This one week increase in maturity is clinically very important.

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