Now, scientists have discovered a 'smart' insulin protein molecule that can massively reduce the risk of cancer. Previous studies have shown that obesity and excess insulin - whether naturally produced by the body or injected in synthetic form - are linked to an increased incidence of some common cancers.
A team of researchers from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, led by Michael Weiss, revealed their invention of the 'smart' insulin protein molecule that binds considerably less to cancer receptors and self-assembles under the skin.
To provide a slow-release form of insulin, the analog self-assembles under the skin by means of 'stapling' itself via bridging zinc ions.
"It's quite a novel mechanism. Our team has applied the perspective of biomedical engineering to the biochemistry of a therapeutic protein. We regard the injected insulin solution as forming a new biomaterial that can be engineered to optimize its nano-scale properties," Weiss said.
"The notion of engineered zinc staples may find application to improve diverse injectable protein drugs to address a variety of conditions from cancer to immune deficiency," Weiss added.
While initially tested in diabetic rats by team member Faramarz Ismail-Beigi, the study of this new, self-assembling insulin will continue with approval by the National Institutes of Health toward the goal of human clinical trials.
"The goal of all drug therapies is to make therapeutic molecules more selective, in other words, more effective with less complications. We've sought to accomplish this with our engineering a new and "smarter" insulin molecule, as the hormone's primary job is to bind to the key receptors that regulate blood glucose concentration (designated the insulin receptor), not cancer-related receptors," Weiss said
The new research has been published in the prestigious Journal of Biological Chemistry.