Snail Venom: The Key to Better Diabetes Treatments?

Snail insulin binds to human receptors

New research has found that venom extracted from a species of marine cone snail could hold the key to developing “ultra–fast-acting” insulins, leading to more efficient therapies for diabetes management.

Scientists from the United States and Australia have successfully determined the three-dimensional structure of insulin found in cone snail venom, revealing how this highly efficient natural protein––called Con-Ins G1––can operate faster than human insulin. The team also discovered that Con-Ins G1 was able bind to human insulin receptors, suggesting the potential for its translation into a human therapeutic.

Dr. Mike Lawrence of Melbourne’s Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research led the collaborative study.

“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,” he said.

Published in Nature Structural and Molecular Biology, the team’s findings build on earlier studies from 2015, when the University of Utah reported that the marine cone snail Conus geographus used an insulin-based venom to trap its prey. Unsuspecting fish would swim into the invisible trap and immediately become immobilized in a state of hypoglycemic shock induced by the venom.

The researchers found that the cone snail insulin can “switch on” human insulin cell-signaling pathways, meaning that the cone snail insulin is able to successfully bind to human receptors.

Research is under way is to apply these findings to the design of new treatments for diabetes.

Source: Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research; September 13, 2016.