• Thu
  • Aug 21, 2014
  • Updated: 2:48pm

Gene therapy may replace Viagra

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 March, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 March, 2002, 12:00am

Gene therapy could replace Viagra as a cure for impotence, according to a leading Hong Kong urologist.


In the latest issue of the Hong Kong Medical Diary, Dr Kwok Tin-fook says ageing male tissue could be genetically re-engineered to function more youthfully.


Malfunctioning cells in the penis may not be producing enough of the gas nitric oxide - which acts as a chemical signal to help cause and maintain an erection.


'Like many other illnesses, the future of [impotence treatment] may lie in gene therapy,' writes Dr Kwok, who is also the journal's chief editor.


'If we can modify the cells of the corpus cavernosum [erectile tissue cells] and make them produce more nitric oxide in response to natural stimuli, the patient may not need to take drugs constantly for at least a period of time.'


About one in 10 SAR men suffer from clinical impotence.


The paper is a summary of clinical approaches to impotence, but in the conclusion, Dr Kwok speculates on what could be achieved in future gene therapy.


In a later interview, Dr Kwok, who is in private practice, predicted an effective gene therapy to treat impotence would be available in five to 10 years.


'The cells may be worn out, so you rejuvenate them to make them work like they were 10 years younger and produce more nitric oxide like they used to,' he said.


'There isn't a therapy available now, but in five to 10 years, there probably will be one. The problem with drugs like Viagra is that it's [effect is] one-off, and you have to keep taking them. The therapy, if it proves to be successful, will make taking drugs unnecessary and allow your body to work naturally, at least over a certain period.'


The therapy would not be as simple as inserting a gene or genes to instruct the cells to produce more nitric oxide, according to Dr Kwok, but rather involve several complex steps in modifying genetic instructions to the cells.


Research in this direction is being carried out overseas. Taiwanese urologist Dr Tom Lue, at the University of California in San Francisco, is close to completing initial research, but it may take years for US medical authorities to approve any clinical use of the information.


According to Dr Kwok, impotence is now understood to be caused mainly by organic, rather than mental, factors. 'More and more, erectile dysfunction is found to be organic instead of purely psychogenic,' he wrote in the medical paper.


'However, psychogenic factors can be present as contributory or secondary factors and should not be ignored.'


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