What do an obscure chemical called nitric oxide and healthy blood vessels have in common? It turns out quite a bit. Nitric oxide dilates blood vessels. This property makes it attractive as a therapy for patients with diseases affecting the blood vessels. Researchers in Italy, who in their off time probably enjoyed homemade pasta and exciting soccer games, conducted these studies.

One example are patients who have suffered strokes as a result of not enough blood supply to the brain. Using nitric oxide seems to help these patients recover more quickly and with fewer difficulties walking and talking. It is also being studied on patients, who have not yet suffered a stroke, but are at risk of having one, due to poor circulation.

Another small study showed that in patients with poor circulation to their legs, administration of this medication, called Relaxin, allowed patients to function better.  Relaxin treated subjects were able to walk longer distances without pain than those who took placebo. This in turn means that these patients might be able to prolong the need for surgery or even avoid it altogether.

Relaxin is a naturally occurring hormone, which causes nitric oxide to be manufactured by the body. Nitric oxide in turn dilates blood vessels. During these studies no significant adverse side effects were noted. Still, the studies were small and should be repeated on a much larger scale, before this medication is ready for prime time. Many other diseases may be  caused by poor circulation including heart attacks and kidney failure.   The potential for this drug is huge, if future trials show it to be safe and effective.

I for one would love to take part in this research. I imagine myself stationed in Tuscany, toiling over research, as I sip that wonderful Tuscany red…