Dolphins are the only animals apart from humans to develop a natural form of type 2 diabetes, according to new research. The discovery offers important insights into a disease that is linked to one in 20 deaths.
American scientists have discovered that bottlenosed dolphins show a form of insulin resistance very similar to that seen in human diabetes. Unlike patients with the condition, the marine mammals can turn this state on and off when appropriate, so it is not normally harmful.
The findings indicate that dolphins could provide a valuable animal model for investigating type 2 diabetes, which promises to advance research into new therapies. If researchers can learn how the animals switch off their insulin resistance before it becomes damaging, it could be possible to develop a cure.
Stephanie Venn-Watson, a veterinary epidemiologist at the US National Marine Mammal Foundation, who led the research, said that it could have profound implications for a disease that affects an estimated 2.75 million adults in Britain.