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Developments in the Search for a Viagra for Women

February 12, 2001|SHARI ROAN

The success of the drug Viagra among men has raised the tantalizing question of whether medications might work for women with sexual disorders, too.

As many as a dozen drug companies are trying to develop therapies that would improve female libido or arousal.

"There are so many options coming down the pike," says Laura Berman, co-director of the new UCLA Female Sexual Medicine Center.

Viagra, testosterone and a topical prostaglandin cream are among the potential treatments that the UCLA center will investigate, says Laura Berman, a sex therapist who will run the clinic with her sister, Dr. Jennifer Berman, a urologist.

The goal of researchers is to move therapies from clinical trials to the bedside as swiftly as possible. But that may not be easy.

To date, for example, the largest study on Viagra in women with sexual dysfunction found it no more effective than a placebo (an inactive dummy pill).

In contrast, the Bermans say they give the medication only to women with clear physiological problems--something that the large Viagra study did not do--and that many patients of theirs report improved sexual response. "We rule out emotional or relationship factors before prescribing it," says Laura.

Testosterone supplementation in women with proven low levels of the hormone is another treatment option that greatly interests researchers but is still experimental and plagued by conflicting reports on its benefits.

Also promising is a substance called prostaglandin E-1 cream, a topical genital cream that relaxes muscles and increases blood flow to tissues. A synthetic form has been used to treat male impotence, but its effects on women are still unknown.

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