A team of researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine has developed a topical drug that could regenerate and restore the function of damaged erectile nerves.

Surgical interventions, such as radical prostatectomy for prostate cancer, can damage the penile nerves, causing erectile dysfunction (ED).

The researchers, who published their findings online in JCI Insight, tested the new topical drug in rats.

Study co-lead Dr. David Sharp said, “Erectile dysfunction after radical prostatectomy has a major impact on the lives of many patients and their partners. Since rats are reliable animal models in urologic research, our drug offers real hope of normal sexual function for the tens of thousands of men who undergo this surgery each year.”

“Despite the advent of so-called nerve-sparing procedures, the surgery [radical prostatectomy] can damage the cavernous nerves, which control erectile function by regulating blood flow to the penis,” explained another study co-lead Dr. Kelvin Davies.

The team realized that damaged nerves might be repaired using the drug they developed, which is called “anti-FL2,” a gene-silencing drug.

The researchers found that the drug enhanced nerve regeneration and restored nerve function. And after a few weeks of therapy, the treated rats had significantly better erectile function than the control group.

The study also found that penile shafts of treated rats had higher levels of the enzyme nitric oxide synthase compared to controls, according to Science Daily.

“This is important because drugs like Viagra don’t work if there’s no nitric oxide to kick things off,” Dr. Sharp explained, “but if we can restore even some of the nitric oxide in these nerves, Viagra and other ED drugs may then be able to exert their effects.”

Dr. Sharp, Dr. Davies, and the team are currently studying whether their new drug can promote nerve regeneration or regrowth after spinal cord injuries. The article was published in Science Daily.