The venom of a carnivorous sea snail could hold the key for artificial, fast-acting insulin for diabetes patients, an Australian study has found.
Researchers from Melbourne’s Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI) discovered the unusual three-dimensional structure of the insulin, a hormone that turns glucose ingested into liver and skeletal muscle cells, within the cone snail’s venom, Xinhua news agency reported. Mike Lawrence, leader of WEHI’s participation in the research, said the discovery was a significant step and would enable scientists to engineer an artificial version of the fast-acting insulin.
Lawrence said the artificial insulin, used to maintain a healthy level of glucose in the blood of diabetes patients, would work instantaneously compared to the insulin currently used which requires 15 minutes to take effect.
“Our breakthrough has been to determine the structure of this venom insulin,” Lawrence said on Tuesday.
Lawrence said insulin developed from the snail venom could be administered to patients suffering from type one, type two and gestational diabetes. The cone snail uses its venom on fish, a vertebrate species similar to humans, which made researchers believe that the venom’s insulin would work on humans.
Diabetes Australia said that 280 Australians develop diabetes every day. The research is an ongoing international collaboration between scientists from the US, Denmark and Australia.