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Cialis impotence drug helps muscular dystrophy patients

LONDON (Reuters) - Eli Lilly's erectile dysfunction drug Cialis can correct abnormal blood flow in patients with a certain type of muscular dystrophy and could in future be used to slow progression of the disorder, researchers said on Wednesday.

The findings suggest that while Cialis can't cure the condition, known as Becker muscular dystrophy, it could be used as a treatment to slow or prevent muscle weakening and help patients retain more function for longer.

Becker muscular dystrophy (BMD) is an inherited disorder that involves slowly worsening muscle weakness of the legs and pelvis. It is mostly found in boys and occurs in about 3 to 6 out of every 100,000 births.

Patients with BMD often have difficulties with walking that get worse over time. There is no cure for the condition, and by the age of 25 to 30 many patients are unable to walk.

In a small study involving men with the disorder, researchers from the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, in the United States took measurements when volunteers' forearm muscles were either rested or lightly exercised with a handgrip.

They found that almost all the patients had defective blood flow when they exercised. This lack of blood flow may contribute to muscle fatigue and weakness, the researchers wrote in a study in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

But after giving some of the patients a single oral dose of Cialis and comparing them to others given a placebo, or dummy pill, the scientists found that normal blood flow was restored to the muscles of 8 out of 9 patients who got the drug.

Like other erectile dysfunction drugs, Cialis, known generically as tadalafil, dilates blood vessels and is designed to increase blood flow. In the impotence drug market, it is a longer-acting alternative to Pfizer's blue pill, Viagra.

Sales of Cialis for erectile dysfunction brought in $1.875 billion for Eli Lilly in 2011, up 10 percent on 2010.

While using the drug in BMD may be a possibility in future, the researchers cautioned that doctors should not prescribe it for this indication until more, larger studies have been conducted to show whether the improved blood flow has a meaningful effect on dystrophic muscles.

(Reporting by Kate Kelland; Editing by Louise Heavens)

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