He is the largest native lizard in America and he packs a powerful clamping, chewing, and poisonous bite which can last 15 minutes before he lets go. But like the old Chinese proverb said, “everything is beautiful in its own way”. Though this colorful beaded monster possesses a certain physical attractiveness, his real beauty lays in the gift of his venom which has been formulated into Byetta, perhaps the best diabetes drug known to science. I don’t have diabetes but I do have Parkinson’s, a progressive disorder which to date has resisted every effort to halt or even slow down its progression.
Thanks to this monster, that might be about to change. In recent clinical testing Byetta significantly impacted the course of and the advance of Parkinson disease. This monster has already improved the lives of millions of diabetics. I now have hope it can do the same for me and for the 10 million others who have Parkinson’s syndrome.
The Gila (pronounced HEE-luh) monster got his name from the Gila River Basin in Nevada where he can easily be found. Even though poisonous he is to the greater extent little danger to humans. Almost all who are bitten got to be so by carelessness. They either stepped on, poked or prodded, or even picked one up. Excruciatingly painful as it may be, bites are seldom fatal. Gila monsters spend 95 percent of their time underground often using the burrows of other animals. They average 2 feet long and 5 pounds heavy. Gila monsters store fat in their tale allowing them to get by eating just 3 or 4 large meals a year. They also have water storage bladders whereby they can go almost 3 months in the desert without a drink of water. Once hatched Gilas take up to 5 years to mature and live about 30 years. A carnivore, Gila monsters eat all kinds of insects and small rodents. They do not chew but simply swallow their food whole.
Who would have ever thought a treatment for diabetes would be found in a peptide lurking in the venom of a Gila monster. Even more so is the fact that the very same medicine just might halt Parkinson in its tracks. This is one major reason why it is important to protect and conserve every living thing on the planet. Who knows what cures for the afflictions of man reside in the flora and fauna of mother earth as yet undiscovered? Another example was the discovery of an unknown class of amino sterol organic compounds in the livers of Dogfish sharks. This new steroid has shown to be a powerful anti-cancer, anti-microbial, anti-fungal and of great interest to me, possibly an effective anti-Parkinsonian agent. Squalamine is the generic name of this compound and is available without a prescription under the trade name Squalamax. I make no claims or recommendations about these compounds. My point is there is no way to know when or how nature will reveal a new medicine for an old disease.