Venom from the Platypus, Australia's indigenous egg-laying mammal, can be used for effectively treating diabetes, revealed a recent study by researchers at the University of Adelaide in South Australia on Friday.
It is reported that the latest experiments revealed Type 2 diabetes can be treated by adopting the evolutionary changes of insulin regulation in last two surviving members of the order Monotremata – Platypus and Echina, both native to the Australia. The hormone that makes this regulation possible is also found in the animal's powerful venom, produced during the breeding season.
"Our research team has discovered that monotremes (egg-laying mammals) - our iconic platypus and echidna - have evolved changes in the hormone GLP-1 that make it resistant to the rapid degradation normally seen in humans," said Professor Frank Grutzner, the head of the team that carried out the experiment, according the The Straits times.
The scientists further explain that the hormone responsible for controlling the sugar level in blood is called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) and is produced in the gut of both humans and animals. However, the hormone in the patients with Type 2 diabetes disintegrates itself too quickly to produce enough insulin which will effectively control sugar level. Thus the patients have to intake medicine to enhance the lasting capacity of the hormone to release sufficient insulin.
However, these mammals degenerate the GLP-1 hormone in their flood in a completely different way and the technique can shed new light on the treatment of Type 2 diabetes patients. "Further analysis of the genetics of monotremes reveals that there seems to be a kind of molecular warfare going on between the function of GLP-1, which is produced in the gut but surprisingly also in their venom," said the professor.
The Platypus venom has evolved to form a more stable form of GLP-1 mainly because the animal uses the poison to attract mates during the mating season. Excitingly, stable GLP-1 molecules are highly desirable as potential Type 2 diabetes treatments," she said.
The scientist also explains that the contrast competition between the two functions of the GLP-1 hormone in the animal has given rise to this peculiar form of evolution. The same hormone which is produced in the gut of the animal helps regulate blood glucose and the one found in its venom is used to fend off other platypus males during breeding season.
"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," she added.
The hormone which is also found in echidnas, a peculiar animal resembling an anteater, is less effective as the animal lacks spurs which the Platypus has on hind limbs and can produce a large amount of venom.
"The lack of a spur on the echidna remains an evolutionary mystery, but the fact that both the platypus and the echidna have evolved the same long-lasting form of the hormone GLP-1 is in itself a very exciting finding," said Prof Grutzner.
Frank Grutzner, who headed the team of scientists, is the Genetics Lecturer of the University of Adelaide and Associate Professor Briony Forbes of Flinders University and the study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.