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Insulin ‘Handshake’ Could Lead to Better Diabetes Treatments

Injections may become a thing of the past (Jan. 10)

Scientists at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Victoria, Australia, have discovered the intricate way in which insulin uses the insulin receptor to bind to the surface of cells. This binding is necessary for the cells to take up sugar from the blood as energy. The new findings — published in Nature — could help in the development of improved types of insulin for treating both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

For more than 20 years, researchers have been trying to solve the mystery of how insulin “docks” on cells.

“We have now found that the insulin hormone engages its receptor in a very unusual way,” said associate professor Mike Lawrence. “Both insulin and its receptor undergo rearrangement as they interact — a piece of insulin folds out and key pieces within the receptor move to engage the insulin hormone. You might call it a ‘molecular handshake.’”

“Insulin is a key treatment for diabetics, but there are many ways that its properties could potentially be improved,” Lawrence said. “This discovery could conceivably lead to new types of insulin that could be given in ways other than injection, or an insulin that has improved properties or longer activity so that it doesn’t need to be taken as often. It may also have ramifications for diabetes treatment in developing nations, by creating insulin that is more stable and less likely to degrade when not kept cold, an angle being pursued by our collaborators. Our findings are a new platform for developing these kinds of medications.”

Source: Walter & Eliza Hall Institute; January 10, 2013.

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