7.07.2004

Medical researchers often look to the laboratory and man-made solutions for new treatments for serious diseases, but sometimes nature can offer an effective alternative.

Although it's bite can be deadly, doctors say the gila monster could help diabetics.

When school principal Marcia Parker was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, she couldn't lose weight. Eventually, she joined a study that used the lizard's spit to control insulin levels and weight.

"I lost about 15 pounds," she said.

Doctors discovered that a hormone in the lizard's saliva could fight diabetes and obesity. It stabilizes blood sugar levels.

By producing the same hormone synthetically in an injection, physicians help diabetics control their insulin levels without other injections or changes in diet.

The gila monster isn't the only creature scientists are turning to for development of new treatments. Species from blowfish to leeches are being used to fight Alzheimer's, even arthritis.

The vampire bat carries a protein in its saliva that dissolves blood clots which cause strokes and could rival the current best treatment which must be given within three hours of the stroke.

"The current treatment for dissolving blood clots is called TPA. It has to be given within three hours typically and causes a certain percentage of bleeding in the brain. The bat saliva has the benefit of being effective as long as six to nine hours, which is a big improvement," said Dr. John Cochran.

The experimental drugs are still in clinical trials. Even if successful, they are several years away from your pharmacy.

The gila monster's spit may do more than just fight diabetes. Recent studies have shown that the lizard's saliva also contains a chemical which acts on part of the brain the affects memory loss.

Doctors hope it could eventually lead to a treatment for Alzheimer's.



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