- Insulin shots are an indispensable treatment for several diabetes patients.
- Ultrarapid-acting insulins have a potential use in artificial pancreas and diabetic emergencies
- An insulin that is produced by the conus snail may provide clues for the development of an ultrarapid-acting insulin
A quick-acting insulin produced by the conus snail may provide clues to the development of an ultrarapid-acting insulin in humans. The research in this regard has been published in the Nature Structural & Molecular Biology.
‘The oceans provide us with numerous resources and clues to treat various diseases including diabetes.’
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Research on diabetes has resulted in several advances in its treatment in the past few years. While new drugs have been added to the treatment armamentarium, several new insulins have also revolutionized the treatment of diabetes. Genetic engineering has resulted in the introduction of synthetic insulins like insulin lispro , insulin aspart and insulin glulisine.
Researchers are now taking clues from the cone snail to develop a quick-acting remedy for the treatment of diabetes. The snail Conus geographus uses insulin to attack its prey. The insulin is released into the water along with other compounds. It enters the gills of surrounding fish, which causes the fish to suffer from low blood sugar levels. This hypoglycemic effect stuns the fish and enables the snail to have its meal.
How is this insulin from the cone snail different from the insulin that is currently available for the treatment of diabetes? The insulin that is currently available takes a minimum of 10 to 15 minutes to act. This is due to the structure of the insulin, which requires it to be broken down before it can act. The snail insulin does not need the disintegration and acts quickly. The snail requires this - you can imagine if the snail had to wait for 10 to 15 minutes for the insulin to act before it can gulp down its meal!
Researchers are exploring the possibility of exploiting the structure of snail insulin to produce an insulin that has a very rapid onset of action which may be as less as 5 minutes. Such an insulin could be an advantage to patients with diabetes complications like diabetic ketoacidosis (excess production of blood acids (ketones)) or coma. It could be particularly useful in an artificial pancreas that automatically delivers insulin in response to blood sugar levels.
The new insulin could be years away before it can be used in diabetes patients. But the current research definitely is a positive step towards the development of an ultrarapid-acting insulin.
- Menting JG et al. A minimized human insulin-receptor-binding motif revealed in a Conus geographus venom insulin. Nature Structural & Molecular Biology (2016) doi:10.1038/nsmb.3292