While Viagra is the most popular erectile dysfunction treatment in the world—and there are an estimated 150 million men globally suffering from the disorder—it only strengthens an existing erection and cannot actually instigate one. Another potential treatment is in the works that doesn't incorporate drugs at all: It's gene therapy that involves exposure to blue light. Reporting last month in the journal Angewandte Chemie, researchers say that injecting a light-sensitive synthetic gene called an "erectile optogenetic stimulator" into the erectile tissue of rats' penises allowed the creatures to achieve erections in as little as 37 seconds after being exposed to a blue light. Vice pulls a line from the paper that states the rats "showed different levels of erectile response within 55 seconds upon exposure." In some cases, they were ultimately able to ejaculate, a press release notes.
Cosmos reports that cells are slower to "turn over" in the penis as compared to other organs, but they do turn over, meaning men using this treatment would need to regularly inject themselves. "Injecting DNA does sound kind of strange," researcher Martin Fussenegger tells Cosmos, but thanks to ultra-thin needles, "it wouldn't be as painful as people might think." As for the blue light the researchers used, it was just an ordinary lamp used to treat seasonal affective disorder. They'll next need to get the green light for human gene therapy trials, which the release notes would be "highly expensive." Even if the treatment proves successful in humans, Viagra may not be entirely a thing of the past—when the little blue pill was paired with blue light gene therapy, the rats' erections lasted longer. (The doctor behind the world's first successful penis transplant explains what his patient's life was like before and after surgery.)