New medications for insulin-dependent diabetics that don’t require daily injections could soon be developed following breakthrough research published in the journal Nature.
A team of international researchers, led by the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Melbourne, Australia, say they have finally discovered how the hormone insulin binds to its receptor on the surface of cells, a process which is necessary for cells to take glucose from the blood and transform it into energy.
Lead investigator Professor Mike Lawrence explained: “Both insulin and its receptor undergo rearrangement as they interact. A piece of insulin folds out and key pieces within the receptor move to engage the hormone. You might call it a ‘molecular handshake’.”
Lawrence believes the discovery, which was made using the first 3D picture of the molecular structure of the insulin hormone and receptor, could lead to the development of new, non-injectable insulin products that are also more effective and longer-lasting.
“The generation of new types of insulin have been limited by our inability to see how insulin docks into its receptor in the body,” he said.
“This discovery could conceivably lead to new types of insulin that could be given in ways other than injectio, or an insulin that has improved properties or longer activity so that it doesn’t need to be taken as often.”
According to Lawrence, the finding could also enable the creation of more stable insulins that do not need refrigeratio, which would help improve treatment of diabetes in developing nations.
Insulin is needed to regulate blood glucose levels in the body. But in people with diabetes, the hormone is either not produced or the body become resistant to it, causing blood sugars to rise to abnormally high levels.

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