Insulin has been proven to be a valuable, life-saving hormone since the first diabetics were injected with insulin in the 1920s, but that doesn’t mean there is no room for improvement. Scientists at the University of Utah in the United States looked at the problem from an interesting, nature-inspired perspective, using useful elements from chicken heart venom to create a powerful hybrid “mini insulin.” This hybrid insulin works more quickly and can make diabetes better.
Researchers at the University of Utah made chicken heart snails part of their research because of the cunning of the creature’s seduction. When it comes to potential dinners, molluscs are able to release venom, causing the fish’s blood sugar levels to drop sharply, causing the fish to “paralyze” the fish.
This is because the venom contains a fast-acting insulin that induces a hypoglycemic sedative in the fish. It works almost instantaneously because the chicken’s heart venom lacks the body’s insulin component, which condenses individual molecules together. This means that the injected insulin must rupture before it can be played to control blood sugar levels in diabetics.
The same team found in laboratory experiments in 2016 that the insulin could be attached to human insulin receptors, raising the prospect of faster insulin for diabetes. However, some key obstacles remain. Researchers have had trouble trying to use chicken heart snail venom in humans, and they have found that it is far less effective than traditional forms of hormones. The team speculated that to effectively lower blood sugar levels in human patients, the dose would need to be 20 to 30 times stronger.
Now, another major breakthrough reported by the team seems to have overcome that. By using structural biology and chemical techniques to study the composition of insulin in chicken, the scientists isolated four amino acids through continuous experiments to help it bind to insulin receptors. They then designed a human insulin that does not contain the ingredients that cause the clumps, and included these newly unearthed amino acids.
The result is what scientists describe as the world’s smallest fully functional version of the hormone, which they call “mini insulin.” Laboratory tests on rats found that the combination of insulin and insulin receptors was as strong as that of human insulin, providing the same potency and acting faster.
“Mini insulin has great potential,” said study author Danny Hung-Chieh Chou of the University of Utah. “With a few strategic substitutions, we have produced a powerful, fast-acting molecular structure, the smallest, fully active insulin to date. Because it is so small that it should be easy to synthesize, it is a major candidate for the development of a new generation of insulin therapy drugs. “
If the team’s fast-acting blend of insulin is adapted to human use, it will involve a lot of research that can make managing blood sugar levels more effectively, while also reducing the risk of complications such as hyperglycemia.
“We now have the ability to create a hybrid insulin that works in humans, and it also seems to have many positive properties of insulin in the heart,” Chou said. “This is an important step in our quest to make diabetes treatment safer and more effective. “
The study was published in the journal Nature Structureand and Molecular Biology.