While New Mexicoing it recently in New Mexico, I narrowly missed running over and squashing a monster sunning itself on the road, a Gila monster. Had I hit this loathsome leathery lizard and created monster mash I could have once again destroyed one of the secrets that could save mankind. “Gila” pronounced “heela” as in healing, is a less than sexy reptile that, like the less than sexy Olson twins, eats only three meals a year. I have some patients that eat three meals before breakfast. Most are now diabetic, a disease that is the product of how and how much we eat in this country. Yet Gila monsters not only don’t get diabetes but they don’t even get hungry. They have a chemical in their saliva called xenatide, no doubt discovered by a lonely southwest lad with way too much time in the desert. Like insulin this chemical stimulates cells to take sugar out of the bloodstream but stops working when the sugar is normal! Thus it only works when it is actually needed, an advantage it gives diabetics who don’t want to have their blood sugar drop too low at the wrong time, such as in the middle of the night or when dancing with Marie Osmond or her teeth.
As a result, a new and exciting class of drugs called incretins has been spawned, thanks to the lovely lizard of Laredo. It is known as exenatide, a much more palatable name than monster mucous, and is amongst the fastest expanding medications in waist expanding North America, diabetic capital of the expanding universe, which apparently, is expanding as it should. It is also an appetite suppressant and induces weight loss. For those gumbooters who believe that only “natural” stuff can cure your lazy blood yeasts blahblahyawn, you can take joy in knowing that this medication is tantamount to swapping spit with a lizard.
But hold your Gilas, lizard lovers. You are not to have all the glucose glory. Turns out that the skin of a South American frog secretes a compound that stimulates insulin release from the human pancreas with no side effects, unless warts bother you. Now IT is about to be made into a medication, (Fernando flakes?). Soon it may benefit diabetics to camp out at the reptile and amphibian exhibit at the local zoo just to keep their sugars in check. Snuggle down at night with a monster and a frog (gotta kiss a few to find the guy formerly known as a prince, anyway) and you could have normal blood sugars, a dream that only diabetics could appreciate.
Not to be outdone by his disgusting cousins, a scorpion named Sid decided to get in on the action. Finding that the diabetic field was getting crowded with do-gooder lizards and Amazonian frogs, Sid focused on brain tumours. He is no ordinary run of the mill, sleep in your slippers scorpion; he is the African Death Stalker (emit low evil cackle). What a cool friggin’ nickname. “Hey look out guys! Here comes Dave the African Death Stalker!” But Sid comes by his moniker honestly, as his venom can kill a human or even mommy-dearest Kim Il Jong. His venom is remarkable as it has an affinity for the very nasty death stalking brain tumour known as a glioma. Injected directly into the brain, the venom bypasses normal brain tissue and heads right to the tumour, and with the help of a little radioactive package that the doctor has attached to it, kills the deadly glioma cells! Incredible! The cure for cancer possibly lies in the tail of a scorpion? Absolutely.
But wait-there are even more venom cures. There are fish loaded with pain killers, cone shells with anesthetics, ant juice that may lower blood pressure, tick stuff that may stuff heart disease and awkward looking toads that simply tickle our funny bone. Venom-designed by nature to kill us-may, in fact, keep us alive. So scorpio/spidey/snake lovers, fill your boots. Just take a glance in them before you put them on.