Platypus venom could hold key to diabetes treatment

6 December 2016

MIPS researchers have contributed to a study that discovered evolutionary changes of insulin regulation in two of the nation's most iconic native animal species – the platypus and the echidna – which could pave the way for new treatments for type 2 diabetes in humans.

The findings, published in the Nature journal Scientific Reports, reveal that the same hormone produced in the gut of the platypus to regulate blood glucose is also surprisingly produced in their venom.

The hormone, known as glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), is normally secreted in the gut of both humans and animals, stimulating the release of insulin to lower blood glucose, but GLP-1 typically degrades within minutes.

In people with type 2 diabetes, the short stimulus triggered by GLP-1 isn't sufficient to maintain a proper blood sugar balance. As a result, medication that includes a longer lasting form of the hormone is needed to help provide an extended release of insulin.

Professor Patrick Sexton and Dr Denise Wootten played a key role in the pharmacological characterisation of the GLP peptides.

"Our research team has discovered that monotremes – 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," says co-lead author Professor Frank Grützner, from the University of Adelaide's School of Biological Sciences and the Robinson Research Institute.

"We've found that GLP-1 is degraded in monotremes by a completely different mechanism. Further analysis of the genetics of monotremes reveals that there seems to be a kind of molecular warfare going on between the function of GLP-1, which is produced in the gut but surprisingly also in their venom," he says.

"These findings have the potential to inform diabetes treatment, one of our greatest health challenges, although exactly how we can covert this finding into a treatment will need to be the subject of future research" said Professor Grützner.