How Aussie icons are set to change the way diabetes is treated

They’re one of Australia’s most elusive native animals, but it turns out the platypus could hold the key to treating diabetes.

A team of South Australian researchers recently discovered remarkable evolutionary changes to insulin regulation in the animal species, revealing that the same hormone produced in the gut of a platypus to regulate blood glucose is also produced in their venom.

Published in the nature journal Scientific Reports the hormone, known as glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) is commonly secreted in the gut of both humans and animals and stimulates the release of insulin to lower blood glucose levels. While the hormone usually degrades very quickly in humans, it is not the case for the furry duck-billed mammal (or its prickly friend the echidna that also happens to carry the hormone).

Platypus venom could hold the key to the treatment of Type 2 diabetes. Photo NSW DPI Schools Program / Flickr.
Platypus venom could hold the key to the treatment of Type 2 diabetes. Photo NSW DPI Schools Program / Flickr.

The find could pave the way for new treatments for Type 2 diabetes in humans.

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Scientists at the University of Adelaide revealed that the males of the egg-laying mammal have venomous spurs on the heels of their hind feet and the poison is used to ward off adversaries.

That it produces a long-lasting form of GLP-1 creates an appealing opportunity for relieving the suffering of those suffering diabetes.

Lead researcher professor Frank Grutzner told the BBC the reason he and the team looked at the platypus and its insulin mechanism was because they “knew from the genome analysis that there was something weird about the platypus’s metabolic control system because they basically lack a functional stomach”.

However, further research is needed before a human treatment could be carried out.

“These findings have the potential to inform diabetes treatment, one of our greatest health challenges, although exactly how we can convert this finding into a treatment will need to be the subject of future research,” Professor Grutzner says.

Do you or does someone you know have Type 2 diabetes? How is the condition controlled at the moment?