Help for type-2 diabetes sufferers may be on the way from unlikely sources: the platypus and the echidna, among the more distinctive animals native to Australia.
A hormone the animals and people produce, glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), stimulates insulin production and helps maintain proper blood sugar levels. But it degrades rapidly and isn't helpful to people with type-2 diabetes, who need to balance their blood sugar and require medication to do so.
In the Aussie critters, new research finds, the GLP-1 they produce doesn't rapidly dissipate, as it does in humans. The finding was made by researchers from Flinders University and the University of Adelaide.
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"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 the study's lead author, Frank Grutzner, from the University of Adelaide, in a statement.
The reason for that may have to do with another substance: venom. It turns out that the platypus and echidna also make GLP-1 in their venom. (The platypus can deliver venom to rivals through a hind-limb spur, but echidnas have no such delivery system.) The dual uses for the hormone likely brought about the unusually long-lasting way it behaves, relative to its human form.
"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," explained the study's co-author Briony Forbes, from Flinders University. "This tug of war between the different functions has resulted in dramatic changes in the GLP-1 system."
"The lack of a spur on echidnas remains an evolutionary mystery," said Grutzner, "but 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."
"These findings have the potential to inform diabetes treatment, one of our greatest health challenges," Grutzner added, "although exactly how we can convert this finding into a treatment will need to be the subject of future research."
The study has been published in the journal Scientific Reports.
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