Medical marvel in monster mouth

It sounds like the premise of a sci-fi movie - and in one way it already has been - but a poisonous lizard with a unusual properties has excited the scientific community.

    From 1950s horror film villain to modern day medicinal hero

    This time, it isn't a laboratory spider whose bite can make people scale tall buildings. But the scary-sounding Gila Monster does boast a hormone in its saliva that may benefit millions of diabetes sufferers.

    Tests on the hormone show promise in the treatment of type two diabetes, according to a report issued on Monday at the congress of the International Diabetes Federation.

    According to Amylin Pharmaceutical Inc and Eli Lily and Company, which presented the report, the hormone achieved a "statistically significant" reduction in glucose levels and body weight among sufferers of type two diabetes, which is often associated with obesity.

    In another argument for protecting bio-diversity, the squat Gila monster, an endangered species that lives in the desert of Mexico and the south-western US, produces a hormone called exendin-4 that stimulates the body to produce insulin in response to elevated sugar levels, and suppresses appetite.

    Sinister reputation

    Although the potent nerve toxin is usually not fatal for humans, the lizard acquired a sinister reputation thanks to the classic 1950s science-fiction horror movie, The Giant Gila Monster.

    The synthetically produced version of the hormone, which is known as Exenatide, succeeded in reducing blood sugar to near recommended levels in 44% of patients who completed 24 weeks of treatment, the study said.

    This was consistent with results presented in June at the scientific sessions of the American Diabetes Association meeting in New Orleans.

    The report in Paris said the main side-effect of the treatment, which is administered by injection twice a day, was moderate nausea.

    The study said about 194 million people in the world suffer from type two diabetes, in which the body does not produce enough insulin or does not respond properly to insulin.

    Left untreated, the disease can lead to life-threatening complications. But if the scientists are right, the fearsome Gila monster may yet come to the rescue for many sufferers.

    SOURCE: AFP


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