The Gas That Makes Rotten Eggs Stinky Could Lead to a New Viagra

By Eliza Strickland | March 3, 2009 10:09 am

rotten eggThe gas that creates the foul odor in rotten eggs, hydrogen sulfide, may hold the key to the next blockbuster drug to treat erectile dysfunction, according to a new study. Researchers studied penile tissue discarded by men having male-to-female sex-change operations and found that the tissue expresses hydrogen sulfide; researchers say the gas promotes erections by relaxing the tissue around blood vessels, allowing more blood to flow into the penis. Researchers say the findings raise the possibility of developing an alternative to Viagra by creating a drug that boosts production of the gas.

Viagra works by stimulating the production of nitric oxide, which usually relaxes the penile tissue. The physical result of the hydrogen sulfide treatment appears to be the same — relaxing the smooth-muscle in the penile tissue known as the corpus cavernosum, but it exploits a different chain of molecular tools. “This is a completely different pathway…. If it were to work out in humans, it would be a way to help out people that aren’t responding to Viagra and drugs like it” [Wired News], says urologist Jim Cummings, who was not involved in the new research.

In the new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers also tested the effects of hydrogen sulfide by injecting the gas into human and rat erectile tissue, and found that it did indeed relax tissue and promote blood flow. Says lead researcher Giuseppe Cirino: “This may help to unravel the complex mechanisms underlying the physiology of human penile erection and may lead to the development of therapeutic approaches in the treatment of erectile dysfunction and sexual arousal disorders” [BBC News]. 

Don’t expect to see TV commercials for a new erectile dysfunction drug anytime soon, though: To turn this animal research into a human therapy will likely take years, if not decades. The goal would probably be to develop a formulation that could be taken as a pill, just like Viagra, Cummings said. “What I would foresee is not that we’d inject the gas into our own penises, we’d look for a drug that would make you generate more of this compound in your own tissues,” he said [Wired News].

Related Content:
80beats: Testosterone “Sex Patch” Could Boost Older Women’s Libidos
80beats: Viagra Helps Women Combat the Sexual Side Effects of Antidepressants
DISCOVER: The Science of Great Sex at 80
DISCOVER: Hydrogen sulfide can also be used to bring about Suspended Animation (which was a plot point in a TV show covered in Science Not Fiction)

Image: flickr / Valerie Everett

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
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    Eating beans and drinking Guiness may increase the gas, but good luck having a place to put your erect tissue when you smell like that….

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