Venomous Lizard Puts The Bite On Diabetes

Here is yet another case of a home remedy waiting to be discovered. In 2005 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a drug for the treatment of Type II Diabetes. The drug is called Byetta (exenatide). There’s nothing amazing about that part. New drugs are created often.

The almost unbelievable part is where the drug originated. It wasn’t produced in a lab. Instead, the active ingredient of Byetta comes from the venomous saliva of the Gila Monster lizard.

The Gila Monster, once thought to be one of only two venomous lizards, lives in the deserts of the southwestern U.S. and northwestern Mexico. The Gila Monster is a thick-bodied, heavy and slow-moving lizard. It grows to a maximum length of 2 feet (0.6 m) and preys on small rodents, fledgling birds, and eggs. It tends to eat animals on the ground that cannot move fast (or at all). The quick, strong bite of the Gila Monster delivers venomous saliva that is normally not fatal to humans.

Instead, there is a component of the lizard’s venom that is extremely helpful to certain humans. A component in the Gila Monster’s venom has proven remarkably effective in the control of Type II Diabetes in humans. The Gila Monster is a protected species in the U.S. Fortunately, the exenatide drug can now be synthesized in the lab instead of from live animals.

Diabetes is a chronic medical disorder generally characterized by high blood sugar (glucose) levels, especially after eating. The diabetic patient must consistently monitor blood sugar levels to keep them within a safe range.

When high blood sugar occurs, insulin is used to bring it down to a safer level. If low blood sugar occurs, the patient generally consumes carbohydrates to raise the glucose level to a safe level. Type II Diabetes is a chronic disorder characterized by resistance to insulin, a deficiency in insulin, and hyperglycemia (high blood sugar or excess glucose).

Exenatide helps with glucose (blood sugar) management in several ways:

1. It signals the pancreas to create additional insulin when glucose levels are too high;

2. It regulates the liver so that it doesn’t produce unneeded glucose; and

3. It helps slow the rate at which sugar enters the bloodstream.

Studies showed that another significant effect of exenatide use was weight loss. Overweight diabetes patients can have more difficulty controlling blood sugar levels. The effectiveness of exenatide for diabetic blood glucose control stems from its ability to activate several glucose control pathways simultaneously.

Byetta (exenatide) is a wonderful drug, although its discovery sounds like some kind of horror story. One can only imagine gruesome (but fictitious) clinical trials where unsuspecting diabetics are asked to stick their arms into dark boxes containing Gila Monsters. This discovery sounds like one of those “good news/bad news” jokes. For example, the doctor says, “The bad news is that the lizard probably won’t release its bite on your leg for another week. The good news is that your diabetes has improved!”

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