Research mapping how insulin works at a molecular level could open the door to novel new diabetes treatments, ending daily needle jabs for millions, scientists said yesterday.
A team in Melbourne, Australia has been able to lay out for the first time how the insulin hormone binds to the surface of cells, triggering the passage of glucose from the bloodstream to be stored as energy.
Lead researcher Mike Lawrence, who works at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, said the discovery, more than 20 years in the making, would make new and more effective kinds of diabetes medication possible.
Lawrence said the team's study, published in the latest edition of Nature, had revealed the nature of the "molecular handshake" between insulin and its receptor on the surface of cells. Understanding how insulin attaches to cells was the key to developing novel treatments of diabetes, a chronic condition in which the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or the body cannot use it properly.
"This discovery could conceivably lead to new types of insulin that could be given in ways other than injection, or an insulin that doesn't need to be taken as often," Lawrence said.
It could also boost the treatment of diabetes in developing nations, allowing for the creation of more stable insulin that does not need refrigeration.
There are an estimated 347 million diabetes sufferers worldwide, with diagnoses increasing, particularly in developing countries. Diabetes is expected to be the seventh leading cause of death in the world by 2030, with the World Health Organisation projecting that total deaths from diabetes will rise by more than 50 per cent in the next 10 years.