A researcher at Texas A&M has found that Viagra can greatly improve fetal development in female sheep. The drug, famously used to treat erectile dysfunction, could now lead to healthier pregnancies in not just livestock but also potentially humans.

Dr. Guoyao Wu, animal nutritionist at Texas A&M's AgriLife research, treated pregnant ewes with Viagra. The drug increased blood flow to the uterus, which improved the relay of amino acids and other nutrients to the fetus. Wu explained the potential ramifications of the study:

"Because 5 percent to 10 percent of infants are born as low birth-weight babies worldwide, and because fetal-growth retardation is also a significant problem in livestock species, our findings have important implications for both human health and animal agriculture."

Advertisement

If this seems like sort of a joke, well, that's because it started out as one. In 2003, Wu and fellow research Dr. Tom Spencer were working with pregnant sheep when one of them joked that so many men were using Viagra that perhaps women might also need to use it. (No one ever said it started out as a funny joke.) Within the week, they discovered Pfizer was looking for research proposals on Viagra, and they leaped at the opportunity.

Wu explained just how Viagra affects fetal growth:

"Viagra acts like nitric oxide to relax smooth muscle cells of blood vessels and, in turn, allow for increased uterine blood flow," Wu said. "For pregnant mammals, Viagra can enhance the supply of nutrients from the mother to the fetus via utero-placental blood flow."

Advertisement

Surprisingly, the team was unable to find any apparent negative side effects in the tests. Viagra worked just as well on sheep with restricted and regular diets, and those who were given the drug did not appear to be any less healthy than the control animals. According to Wu:

"We were surprised that Viagra enhanced ovine fetal growth under the conditions of either adequate or inadequate maternal intakes of nutrients from the diet. The results of our study indicate that augmenting systemic blood flow may be a novel and effective strategy to prevent fetal growth retardation in humans and livestock species without affecting maternal health."

Wu next hopes to test Viagra on other mammals to see if he can replicate these results. Potential test subjects include pigs, cows, and ultimately humans.

Advertisement

[AgriLife News]