Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Hormone in Platypus Venom Could Treat Diabetes

The discovery of a key metabolic hormone found in the venom and gut of Australia’s iconic platypus will be investigated for its potential to treat type 2 diabetes.

The metabolic hormone is known as glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), and is normally secreted in the gut of both humans and animals, stimulating the release of insulin to lower blood glucose. A modified form of GLP-1, exenatide, is widely used for diabetes treatment.

“One of the most amazing discoveries of the platypus genome project was the massive loss of genes important for digestion and metabolic control – these animals basically lack a functional stomach,” said Prof Frank Grutzner of the University of Adelaide. “More recently we discovered that monotreme GLP-1 has changed radically in these animals, due to its dual function in both the gut and venom.

“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.

“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.”