Rare lizard's poison will give hope to diabetics.
The Gila Monster's saliva contains a compound which is being turned into a new drug to fight the disease. It will eventually be used by a million people in Britain who have "Type 2" diabetes and still produce small amounts of their own insulin and are able to control their illness using a combination of diet and drugs
Doctors hope it will reduce the death rate from complications of diabetes such as stroke and heart attacks.
Exendin was isolated from the 18-inch Gila Monster's poisonous saliva by scientists studying the eating habits of animals. Experts believe it will prevent Type 2 diabetes sufferers - the majority of Britain's diabetics - from becoming dependent on insulin injections for up to 10 years.
Research has shown that more and more middle-aged people are becoming diabetic because of sedentary lifestyles and too many processed foods.
Exendin is similar to a natural hormone called GLP1 and can control the secretion of the body's own insulin. It can also influence the speed at which the stomach empties, and it can regulate the appetite.
Scientists discovered GLP 1 10 years ago but were unable to use it to treat diabetes because it was only active for a few minutes in the stomach. Exendin is longer-lasting and more effective.
The drug is being developed by Amilyn Pharmaceuticals in Oxford and trials have just started in humans. Professor Stephen Bloom, who is testing Exendin at Hammersmith Hospital, London, said: "It will significantly improve life for sufferers. It is the first new treatment for many years.
"A very important fact is that the hormone controls appetite. A significant number of diabetics are obese and are at risk of death from heart attack and stroke.
"If we can control their weight using this new drug we may be able to reduce the death toll among diabetics."
Amylin spokesman Greg Young said: "If all goes well it could become available in the next few years."