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The next great hope for diabetes treatment is…a platypus?


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Scientists are always working toward finding more effective treatment options for medical issues people face. When it comes to diabetes, an incurable disease that affects more than 30 million people in the United States alone, the answers might lie in the tiny webbed feet of the platypus. Yes, seriously.

Australian reachers recently discovered a metabolic hormone in the duck-billed animal that could help treat type 2 diabetes, according to a press release. Because platypuses don’t have a stomach, their bodies are full of important genes that allow them to digest food properly; one such gene is glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), which is found in the gut of both humans and animals and is responsible for the release of blood-sugar-lowering insulin. In fact, a modified form of GLP-1, exenatide, is already widely used to treat diabetes.

“Maybe this iconic Australian animal holds the answer to a more effective and safer management option for metabolic diseases, including diabetes.” —lead researcher Dr. Frank Grutzner

But the version of the metabolic hormone found in platypuses may actually be a more effective medicine. According to lead researcher Frank Grutzner, PhD, professor at the University of Adelaide, male platypuses have GLP-1 in both their gut and their venom supply, which indicates it might be stronger than the human variety.

“Male platypuses produce venom during the breeding season and can deliver the venom from their hind spurs. We were surprised to see GLP-1 present in venom and think that this may have led to a more effective hormone,” Dr. Grutzner says. “We already know that their GLP-1 works differently, and is more resistant to the rapid degradation normally seen in humans. Maybe this iconic Australian animal holds the answer to a more effective and safer management option for metabolic diseases, including diabetes.”

Though Dr. Grutzner says he and his team have a lot of work ahead, the first step is to test the “clinical relevance of platypus GLP-1.” Here’s to hoping the findings lead to a commercially available product to make diabetes treatment much more effective.

Here’s how eating fresh fruit lowers your risk of diabetes and how eating red meat and poultry increases that risk.

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