Gila monsters are listed as a protected species in the state of Arizona, and thanks to new research, there is even more reason to be grateful for their protection.
For the last thirty years, researchers have been studying enzymes found in the lizard's poisonous saliva.
It was noted that people who were bitten by Gila monsters developed inflammation of the pancreas. Researchers began to study the venomous saliva and discovered that it contains hormones which stimulate the pancreas to produce insulin, thereby lowering blood sugar.
In April 2005, the FDA approved a new drug called Byetta*, a synthetic form of the hormones, to treat people with Type II diabetes who have not found adequate control with other oral diabetic medications.
The drug is given as an injection twice a day at least one hour before breakfast and dinner. The dosage is tightly controlled because even a small overdose can cause nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and low blood sugar. Patients who receive an overdose must contact a physician or the Poison Control Center immediately.
The drug should not be taken after meals, and patients using other diabetic drugs may need dosage adjustment to avoid low blood sugar.
Byetta* also contributes to weight loss by producing a feeling of fullness and delaying emptying of the stomach.
The drug is being used experimentally on people with Type I diabetes to see if they can eventually use less insulin.
Byetta* (also called exenatide) is part of a new class of drugs derived from venom. Ziconotide, derived from deadly cone snail venom, was approved by the FDA for use in severe chronic pain. Researchers at the University of California, Irvine are experimenting with toxins used by the Caribbean sea anemone to stun its prey to develop a new treatment for multiple sclerosis. Others currently being investigated for use in humans include venoms derived from spiders, snakes, and scorpions.
Dawn Pisturino, RN
March 24, 2007
Published in The Kingman Daily Miner on May 29, 2007.
Copyright 2007-2015 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.
*Byetta is a registered trademark.