Insulin and other diabetes treatments derived from animals

Seal oil, lizard’s saliva, cows and pigs share an unusual but significant connection.

If you’d hoped this was the beginning of a joke, prepare for disappointment. The reality is actually more rewarding, though. All of the above have been at some point used to help develop diabetes treatments.

Earlier this month we reported on seal oil, which was shown to have the potential to improve nerve regeneration in people with type 1 diabetes. Seal oil supplements contain an abundance of heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids, a benefit of which, according to Canadian scientists, could extend to treating diabetic neuropathy.

Existing treatments for neuropathy are limited to easing symptoms, but a new trial is now planned to expand on these findings and turn seal oil into a viable neuropathy treatment.

This next one is a bit weird.

Those of you familiar with diabetes medications might be aware of a drug class called GLP-1 analogues. What you might not know, however, is that the drugs are derived from the saliva of a poisonous lizard.

The Gila monster

This lizard is the Gila monster, a “heavy, typically slow-moving lizard”, according to Wikipedia.

Dr John Eng first isolated a chemical part of the Gila monster’s saliva in 1992, and 18 years later it was a pertinent ingredient in Byetta, a GLP-1 analogue approved by the FDA for treating type 2 diabetes in 2005.

It works so well because it is 50% identical to the GLP-1 hormone, released from the human digestive tract to help regulate insulin and glucagon. Moreover, the Gila monster saliva works for longer in the body than the human hormone, increasing the duration in which blood sugar levels are kept under control.

Then, of course, there’s insulin – the drug responsible for Frederick Banting’s Nobel Prize in 1923.

The first type of insulin to be administered to humans with diabetes was animal insulin, derived from cows and pigs. This was the only insulin for people with diabetes for 60 years.

In the 1980s, synthetic insulin was made in laboratories using bacteria, and became the most commonly used form of insulin. However, animal insulin is preferred by some people and continues to be produced. To this day it remains a major hallmark of medicinal achievement.

Leave a Reply

About the author

Jack Woodfield

Jack is Editorial Manager of Diabetes.co.uk. He works hard, plays fair and sleeps whenever possible. He has type 1 diabetes, doesn't mind being called a "diabetic", and once won a talent show for dancing to Dario G’s 1997 hit “Sunchyme”.

Copyright © Diabetes.co.uk 2018