Researchers isolated a molecule called bradykinin potentiating factor from the viper venom and found it is related to a class of molecules that stop angiotensis-converting enzymes (ACE) from blocking bradykinins, a protein that causes blood vessels to dilate and lower blood pressure.
Boyer pointed out that an animal such as a snake needs their prey to be still. Decreasing blood pressure could be a useful property for snake venom, since snakes require that their prey be still while they eat and digest them.
Bradykinin potentiating factors were eventually developed into the drug captopril, used to treat hypertension, cardiac conditions and to preserve kidney function in diabetics, and launched in 1975 by the pharmaceutical company Squibb, now part of Bristol-Myers Squibb, to great success.
The colorful Gila monster (pronounced HEE-la) is a scaly loner that lives in the deserts of the Southwest United States and northern Mexico. It scavenges for small eggs and small animals, spends most of its time underground, and is one of two species of lizards on Earth that produce venom.
It's this venom that makes the Gila monster a medical wonder as well as a natural curiosity.
"In the case of the Gila monster, they are cold blooded animals that in the winter hold very still," Boyer said. "To save energy, tissues like its gut, glands, pancreas, all stop being juicy and active. When the critter wakes up in spring, its venom liberates hormones into body that stimulate its organs to become robust again and ready to receive a meal. "
Dr. John Eng, an endocrinologist at Solomon A. Berson Research Laboratory, discovered this hormone in 1992 which he named exendin-4. The venom hormone was very similar to a hormone produced in the human digestive tract which is responsible for increasing the production of insulin when blood sugar is high. He also found that exendin-4 remained effective in the body longer than the human hormone.
The Gila monster's adaptive tricks now help thousands of diabetes sufferers.
In 2005 the Food and Drug Administration approved the drug Byetta, derived from Gila monster venom. The injectible medicine is effective at helping people with Type 2 diabetes maintain healthy glucose levels. The drug also slowed the emptying of the stomach, decreasing appetite and helping patients to lose weight.
When all other treatments fail and patients face losing life and limb -- literally -- these creepy crawlers are called in to do the job that doctors and modern medicine sometimes cannot.
Maggots are small, voracious eaters that love to feast on diseased and dying flesh. But their nauseating idea of a great meal is a life-saving asset for those suffering from chronic wounds and infections.
"I call them micro-surgeons," said Dr. Edgar Maeyens Jr., dermatological surgeon who practices in Oregon. "Those little guys can debride [clean] a wound better than any guy with a knife."
Maggots used to be standard treatment for wounds in the early 20th century, but with the discovery of antibiotics they fell out of common use. But maggots seem to be making a comeback as bacteria mutates and becomes resistant to antibiotics; more doctors are turning to maggots as a last resort before amputation.
"Maggots will turn a chronic wound into an acute wound in a matter of days by eating the chronic tissue and bacteria. From there the wound becomes treatable and can finally heal," Maeyens said.