‘Ultra-fast’ insulin from snail venom

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Poisonous marine snail (Conus geographus) with toxic proboscis cone extended.
Credit: Jeff Rotman / Getty Images

Venom from a marine cone snail contains fast-acting insulin that could be used to treat diabetes in humans.

Type 1 diabetes is treated with injections. Currently, rapid-acting insulin starts working in just 10-20 minutes, but diabetes patients face the problem of having to time their meals to avoid hypoglycaemic shock (where blood sugar levels fall bellow an appropriate level).

A 2015 study reported that the aquatic snail Conus geographus used an insulin-based venom that froze its fish prey in a state of hypoglycaemic shock.

Building on this research, Mike Lawrence from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne, Australia and colleagues discovered how this fast acting protein is able to bind to human insulin receptors, indicating the potential for development into a human treatment for diabetes.

These findings were published in Nature Structural and Molecular Biology.

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