Platypus and Echidna venom could be the key to new diabetes medication

Photo Courtesy of http://kids.nationalgeographic.com // Platypuses may be the trick to curing type 2 diabetes.

Platypuses are weird. Not only are they one of the few mammals to lay eggs but, the male platypus has venom in the spurs of their hind feet. In nature, it’s used to ward off predators. However, scientists at the University of Adelaide and Flinders University believe that it may be the cure to treating type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is a long-term metabolic disorder that is distinguished by high blood sugar and relative lack of insulin. The venom contains a hormone called (glucagon-like peptide-1) which is also found in humans. It stimulates the release of insulin to lower blood glucose.

Normally it degrades very quickly, but echidnas and platypuses produce a long lasting form of the hormone. Studying this long lasting form could help scientists create something similar to help treat people with diabetes. Weve discovered conflicting functions of GLP-1 in the platypus: in the gut as a regulator of blood glucose, and in venom to fend off other platypus males during breeding season. This tug of war between the different functions has resulted in dramatic changes in the GLP-1 system, said co-lead author Associate Professor Briony Forbes on the Flinders Universitys School of Medicine website.

Platypuses are not the only animals to use insulin as a weapon. The gila monster (a lizard native to US and Mexico) and the geographer cone (a sea snail) both use insulin to defend themselves against predators. An important experiment is going to be putting this it into mice and see how it affects blood glucose levels. Thats certainly very high on our priority list. But to get to a drug is a very long journey. We still have to learn a lot more about how this platypus hormone actually works, said Professor Frank Grutzer told the BBC.

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