Weaponized GLP-1 from Platypus Could be Diabetes Treatment (Maybe)

Australian researchers discovered this. Of course they did – it’s Australia.



Okay, if you’re looking for a serious story about an experimental diabetes treatment, this ain’t it. If, instead, you’re looking for a story about something really weird in nature that may, or may not, benefit people with diabetes down the road, read on.


According to an Australian Broadcasting Corporation News report, Australian researchers have somehow (don’t ask me how) discovered that platypus harbor a special form of the hormone GLP-1 in little spurs in their hind legs.

Okay, a quick scientific explanation until we get back to the awesomeness of the platypus: GLP-1 is a naturally occurring hormone that helps the body secrete insulin and boost insulin sensitivity. Recently, drug companies have been producing GLP-1 drugs as a treatment for Type 2 diabetes.

Anyway, there are a lot of creatures running around with unusual forms of GLP-1, including gila lizards and sea snails. Usually, the GLP-1 found in nature degrades quickly and isn’t much use as a medicine. However, platypus use GLP-1 both in digestion and as a weapon, and this weaponized GLP-1 takes a long time to break down. That slow clock for GLP-1 degradation has got the attention of researchers.

By the way, if you’re wondering, rival platypus assault each other with this weaponized GLP-1 during mating season. It sounds extremely cute, unless you’re actually assaulted by a platypus.


So the headline for the ABC report says “Platypus venom could treat type 2 diabetes, Adelaide researchers find”, but at the moment that just sounds like pure speculation. The researchers say they first want to see what this platypus GLP-1 will do when given to other animals. It sounds like we’re a long way off until they are prepping this hormone for retail sales.

If this treatment is successfully developed, however, there’s nothing saying it couldn’t help at least some people with Type 1 diabetes. Currently, researchers are studying whether current GLP-1 treatments could help treat Type 1 diabetes, presumably in the early stages of the condition.

If there were ever an animal that weirdly held the key to a diabetes treatment, the platypus seems like a good candidate. After all, as Robin Williams points out in the clip below, it is one of the weirdest animals in existence:

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Craig Idlebrook is managing editor for Insulin Nation and Type 2 Nation. He's written about health policy, environmental health, community health, and maternal health for over 25 publications. You can reach him at cidlebrook@epscomm.com.