Although not many people know that, platypuses are one of the few venomous mammals. There is a spur on the hind foot of male platypuses, which can cause a severe pain in humans. Now a new research from Australian universities showed that platypus venom could hold key to new treatments for type 2 diabetes.
Scientists found that the hormone, active in production of venom, is produced in the gut of the platypus to regulate blood glucose. It is called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) and it can be found in both humans and animals. It stimulated release of insulin as a measure to regulate glucose content in blood. Unfortunately for type 2 diabetes patients, GLP-1 degrades within minutes, which for them is not enough to maintain a proper blood sugar balance. This is why scientists are trying to create a new kind of treatment, which would include a longer lasting form of the hormone. But here do you get one?
Scientists were surprised to find out that a good place to start searching for this hormone is in monotremes – Australia’s iconic platypus and echidna. As this research showed, their GLP-1 degrades much slower, because of entirely different mechanism behind it. It maybe because regulation of glucose content in the blood is not its only function – GLP-1 is actively involved in producing venom as well. Why this animal, generally considered peaceful, need venom? The answer is usual in the animal kingdom – to fight other males in the breading season.
This double function of GLP-1 hormone created an entirely different GLP-1 system. Associate Professor Briony Forbes, co-lead author of the study, explained: “The function in venom has most likely triggered the evolution of a stable form of GLP-1 in monotremes. Excitingly, stable GLP-1 molecules are highly desirable as potential type 2 diabetes treatments”. Scientists are confident that these findings can pave the way to new diabetes treatments, although more research is needed to find out how.
Long lasting GLP-1 hormone is the key to the new treatments for type 2 diabetes. As usual, searching for answers in nature is the best way to go. However, this research is only the proof that needed solutions may be found in platypuses and possibly echidnas, and more research is going to be needed to develop innovative treatments for type 2 diabetes.