In a major breakthrough that could help millions of diabetics, Australian researchers have solved a 20-year mystery which could spell the end of daily injections.
The new knowledge on how insulin works at a molecular level could be exploited to develop improved insulin medications to treat both type-1 and type-2 diabetes, they said.
Researchers from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research have captured the first three-dimensional images of insulin “docking” to its receptor, a mystery scientists have been trying to solve for two decades.
Previously, scientists remained unsure as to how insulin binds to the receptor on the surface of cells to allow them to take up sugar from the blood and transform it into energy.
The international research team was led by scientists from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI) in Melbourne, with collaborators from La Trobe University, the University of Melbourne, Case Western Reserve University, the University of Chicago, the University of York and the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry in Prague.
Lead researcher Mike Lawrence, an Associate Professor at the institute’s Structural Biology division said: “This discovery could conceivably lead to new types of insulin that could be given in ways other than injection, or an insulin that has improved properties or longer activity so that it doesn’t need to be taken as often. It may also have ramifications for diabetes treatment in developing nations, by creating insulin that is more stable and less likely to degrade when not kept cold, an angle being pursued by our collaborators. Our findings are a new platform for developing these kinds of medications.”
Lawrence said the insulin is a key treatment for diabetics, but there are many ways that its properties could potentially be improved, the Gizmag website reported.
“Understanding how insulin interacts with the insulin receptor is fundamental to the development of novel insulins for the treatment of diabetes. Until now we have not been able to see how these molecules interact with cells. We can now exploit this knowledge to design new insulin medications with improved properties, which is very exciting,” he said.
The Assoc professor said the team was excited to reveal for the first time a three-dimensional view of insulin bound to its receptor.
The study was published in the journal Nature on January 9.