According to WHO reports in 2015, one in every 11 adults suffers from diabetes, and every 6 seconds, one person dies from diabetes. Of this population, a majority of them suffers from Type-2 diabetes. Though there are medications available which can effectively control the blood sugar level, there is no definitive cure for this deadly plague. However, if the research of a group of Australian scientists is to be believed, then the days of Type-2 diabetes is numbered.
There have been remarkable changes in insulin regulation of two native animals of Australia – Platypus and Echidna – which could pave the way for new treatments for type 2 diabetes in humans. Their findings reveal that the hormone, glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), produced in the gut of the platypus to regulate blood glucose is also produced in their venom. This same GLP-1 is secreted in guts of both humans and animals that simulates release of insulin.
But GLP-1 is highly unstable and degrades within minutes. And so, in people with Type-2 diabetes, this short stimulus is not enough to release enough insulin hormone. As a result, external medicines are taken for making GLP-1 last longer. This is where platypus comes in. The platypus produces a powerful venom during breeding season, which is used in competition among males for females. Associate Professor Briony Forbes says
“We’ve 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. 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. The fact that both platypus and echidnas have evolved the same long-lasting form of the hormone GLP-1 is in itself a very exciting finding and can potentially lead to a cure for diabetes once and for all.”