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11 babies die in drug trial after their mothers were given prenatal Viagra

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Nearly a dozen babies died during a trial where their mothers were given Viagra during their pregnancy. (Image source: YouTube screenshot)

A Dutch hospital has halted a drug trial that involved giving pregnant women Viagra, after 11 infants died during the study.

Why would they give pregnant women Viagra?

The women who participated in the trial were all carrying unborn babies whose growth was inhibited. Following experiments first conducted on rats, the human subjects were given sildenafil — the drug with the brand name Viagra — with the hopes that the drug would increase the blood-flow through the women's placentas to improve the development of their fetuses.

Viagra is typically prescribed to men with erectile dysfunction, and experts hypothesized that the drug's ability to dilate blood vessels would improve the performance of the placentas in pregnant women.

What happened to the babies?

But several infants passed away during the trial conducted by Amsterdam's UMC teaching hospital, due to lung problems believed to be linked to effects of sildenafil. Researchers now believe that the Viagra caused high blood pressure in the babies' lungs, prohibiting them from receiving enough oxygen.

Ten hospitals participated in the research, with 93 women given the drug and another 90 administered a placebo. Of those who took Viagra, 17 babies exhibited the lung problems, 11 of which passed away. Another 19 babies in the trial group were born prematurely and died.

"We wanted to show that this is an effective way to promote the growth of the baby," head researcher Wessel Ganzevoort told the Dutch newspaper De Volkstrant. "But the opposite happened. I am shocked. The last thing you want is to harm patients."

Now what?

The parents of 10 to 15 babies in the trial are facing an agonizing wait to see if their infants will be affected by the drug.

Amsterdam UMC's study was one of four similar trials involving pregnant women taking Viagra; one was completed last year in England, another wrapped up in March involving women from Australia and New Zealand, and research for a study in Canada was halted upon news of the deaths of Dutch babies.

"We have already notified Canadian researchers who are conducting a similar study," Ganzevoort said.  "In any case, they have temporarily stopped their research."

Of the studies thus far conducted, none have found that Viagra has any statistically significant positive impact on the growth of fetuses.

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