Medical Minute: Lizard Helping Diabetes Patients

New statistics show about 18 million Americans have diabetes, and even with medication, many have trouble controlling it. Now, a report on a treatment from an unlikely source that could offer a better way to manage the disease.

The gila monster is a rare lizard with deadly venom in its saliva. That turns out to be a good thing for diabetics like Bill. Researchers have used the saliva to develop a new drug called exenatide. It's injected twice a day to help diabetics keep their blood sugar under control.

"We think that the effect of the drug has something to do with the fact that this animal eats two, maybe three or four times a year," says Dr. John Buse.

A hormone in the lizard's saliva slows its metabolism between meals and keeps its blood sugar low when it does eat. It seems to have the same effect on patients with type two diabetes.

"I did find that my numbers came down. I did find that the drug, the medication, could help me," says Bill Caldwell.

Like most patients in the studies, bill also experienced modest weight loss.

"That's pretty rare for a diabetes drug. Most diabetes drugs are actually associated with weight gain."

Good news since about 80 percent of type two diabetics are overweight. Researchers say exenatide could reduce the need for insulin in type two diabetics.

"This is a remarkably effective drug."

And Bill doesn't care where it comes from.

"Hey, whatever works, if it's tree bark or ants, if it works."

For more information, contact:

Stephanie Crayton-Robinson, Media Relations Manager
UNC Healthcare
(919) 966-2860

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