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Natural protein found in snail venom could aid diabetes treatment

The venom of a marine snail could help potentially treat diabetes, researchers have said.
A natural protein from the venom found in a Conus geographus (geographic cone snail) can work faster than human insulin, a team from Australia and the United States have found.
They also discovered the protein – called Con-Ins G1 – successfully binds to human insulin receptors, and believe it could help experts develop ultra-fast-acting insulins for future treatment.
Study leader Mike Lawrence, from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne, explained: “We found that cone snail venom insulins work faster than human insulins by avoiding the structural changes that human insulins undergo in order to function – they are essentially primed and ready to bind to their receptors.
“The structure of human insulins contain an extra ‘hinge’ component that has to open before any ‘molecular handshake’ or connection between insulin and receptor can take place.
“By studying the three-dimensional structure of this snail venom insulin we’ve found how to dispense with this hinge entirely, which may accelerate the cell signalling process and thus the speed with which the insulin takes effect.”
Dr Helena Safavi-Hemami, a research assistant professor in the biology department at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, said: “We were thrilled to find that the principles of cone snail venom insulins could be applied to a human setting.
“Our colleagues have shown that the cone snail insulin can ‘switch on’ human insulin cell signalling pathways, meaning the cone snail insulin is able to successfully bind to human receptors.”
The findings from the study have been published in the Nature Structural and Molecular Biology journal.
The research was built on studies carried out last year which reported the same snail used an insulin-based venom to trap its prey. In this research, scientists discovered the Conus geographus’s venom induces a hypoglycemic shock trapping unsuspecting fish.
Safavi-Hemami added: “The next step in our research, which is already underway, is to apply these findings to the design of new and better treatments for diabetes, giving patients access to faster-acting insulins.”

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