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Diabetes Treatment Clues May Come From Dolphins


National Marine Mammal Foundation (NMMF) researchers announced that bottlenose dolphins might have the secret to cure type 2 diabetes, which has been growing at exponential rates. Over the past decade, diabetes has increased by the millions and estimates see the totals doubling by 2020 or 2025 due to the rising rate of obesity.

The original data from the dolphins began with documents that were 40 years old. Scientists compiled the older studies with new information to discover that “healthy dolphins appear to readily turn a diabetes-like state on and off. This mechanism appears to be driven by a very high-protein, very low carbohydrate fish diet.”

“While some people may eat a high protein diet to help control diabetes, dolphins appear to have developed a diabetes-like state to support a high protein diet,” stated Stephanie Venn-Watson, DVM, MPH, director of clinical research for the National Marine Mammal Foundation. Sam Ridgway, DVM, PhD, author of The Dolphin Doctor, stated, “There is a critical need for the diabetes research community to help us better understand dolphin metabolism. This work will not only directly benefit dolphin health, but may provide important clues to treating diabetes in humans.”

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The study compared the blood values of dolphins that were recently fed and the blood values of dolphins that fasted overnight. The result revealed a dolphin's ability to control its metabolism. The dolphins that fasted, had changes in serum chemistries that resemble serum changes in people with diabetes. After eating, the dolphins changed their serum chemistries again to a non-diabetic state.

The “switch” might be the answer since researchers recently discovered a similar switch in humans for glucose metabolism. People with diabetes might not be able to turn the switch off., therefore, creating a gene-based switch could be the answer.

“Gene-based dolphin research could lead to a better understanding of how a fasting switch, which may be uncontrolled in some people with diabetes, can be controlled using the dolphin model,” notes Venn-Watson. “Its potential application to treat diabetes is enticing.”

Dr. Ridgway plans to further the research to not only help find a cure for diabetes but also enhance the lives of the marine mammals as well. The NMMF work to encourage ocean conservation through innovative thinking in order to influence future generations.