A study of the crystalline 3-D structure of insulin extracted from the venom of a marine snail reveals a potential way to make insulin for the treatment of diabetes act more rapidly.
The venom of the marine cone snail contains fast-acting insulin that puts its prey into hypoglycemic shock.
Researchers from Australia and the United States have discovered that the venom of Conus geographus contains a highly efficient natural protein – called Con-Ins G1 – that operates faster than human insulin.
They also found that the protein is able to bind to human insulin receptors, suggesting it could work as a treatment for diabetes.
The team reports the findings in the journal Nature Structural & Molecular Biology.
Diabetes is where the body either does not make enough insulin (type 1 diabetes) or cannot use it properly (type 2 diabetes).
The body needs insulin to allow blood sugar (glucose) to enter cells for use as energy. If the body has insufficient insulin, or loses the ability to use it properly, the sugar builds up in the blood.
High blood sugar can lead to blindness, kidney failure, heart disease, stroke, and amputation of toes, feet, or legs.
According to figures from the World Health Organization (WHO), the number of people worldwide with diabetes has gone up from 108 million in 1980 to 422 million in 2014.
Rates of diabetes have been rising faster in middle- and low-income countries. The WHO estimates that by 2030, diabetes will be the seventh leading cause of death worldwide.
For their study, Mike Lawrence, associate professor at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne, Australia, and colleagues, used the Australian Synchrotron to analyze the 3-D structure of the cone snail venom insulin protein.