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New therapy found for erectile dysfunction

Chicago -- U.S. researchers say they've discovered a therapy that might be able to preserve erectile function following prostate cancer surgery.

Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine scientists say up to 80 percent of men undergoing the procedure will lose the ability to have an erection because of damage to a critical nerve that runs along the prostate. But the new study suggests the damaged nerve can be regenerated more quickly with a protein called sonic hedgehog, delivered via a nanofiber gel.

The study, conducted with rats, showed the protein regenerated the damaged nerve twice as quickly as it would have regenerated on its own, the researchers said, noting speeding the nerve healing is essential in order to prevent cell death in the penis and to preserve erectile function.

"This discovery about sonic hedgehog could be applicable not only to erectile dysfunction after prostate surgery, but also when the cavernous nerve is damaged by diabetes, which also causes erectile dysfunction," said Assistant Professor Carol Podlasek, who led the study. She said the finding might also apply to damaged sciatic or facial nerves.

The name sonic hedgehog is taken from a popular video game. The protein is a vital building block in the body that promotes nerve regeneration,

The findings were presented recently in San Francisco during the annual meeting of the American Urological Association.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI).

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