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Platypus venom could be used to treat diabetes

Health

Researchers from South Australia are investigating the use of a hormone found in the venom of the iconic Australian platypus to treat type 2 diabetes.

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The metabolic hormone, known as glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), was discovered during the sequencing of the platypus genome in 2008, led by monotreme genetics expert Professor Frank Grutzner from the University of Adelaide.

GLP-1 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.

Now, in a collaboration between the University of Adelaide, Flinders University, Monash University, SAHMRI and the Royal Adelaide Hospital, a $200,000 grant from Medvet Science will fund a study to investigate whether the platypus hormone could be more effective and sustained in action than current medication.

Professor Grutzner said the platypus genome project found the animals had a massive loss of genes important for digestion and metabolic control.

“These animals basically lack a functional stomach,” Professor Grutzner said.

“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.”

Researchers worldwide are investigating different forms of GLP-1 for their effects on metabolic diseases, including diabetes.

“We have privileged access to these amazing animals,” said Professor Grutzner.

“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.”

Medvet Science is the medical research support and commercialisation arm of the Central Adelaide Local Health Network.

Medvet Science Managing Director and CEO Greg Johansen said bringing industry, leading academic researchers and clinical expertise together was the first step towards testing the clinical relevance of platypus GLP-1.

“We believe it’s a project with great commercial potential,” Johansen said.

Since it’s formation in 1985, Medvet Science has returned more than A$42 million to its shareholders to develop medical technologies and has licensed these technologies to companies today worth $1.7 billion.

Monotremes are rare egg-laying mammals only found in Australia and New Guinea. The amphibious platypus and four species of echidna are the only remaining monotremes.

This is a Creative Commons story from The Lead South Australia, a news service providing stories about innovation in South Australia. Please feel free to use the story in any form of media. The story sources are linked in with the copy and all contacts are willing to talk further about the story.

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