Scientists at the Walter and Eliza Hal Institute of Medical Research have uncovered a new link in the complex relationship between insulin molecules and the proteins found in the body, that bind to them.
For years, scientists have been left in the dark about how insulin works in the body, specifically, how insulin hormones latch on to receptors that allow delete:to sugar to be absorbed into the blood and converted into energy. This process is broken in those who suffer from type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
Professor Mike Lawrence, the study’s lead author, says the discovery has been 30 years in the making.
“This is an absolute breakthrough. People have been trying to work out the centre action between insulin that’s a receptor ever since the receptor was characterised in the mid 1980s,” Professor Lawrence told reporters.
Lawrence believes that the breakthrough will see the development of new insulin treatments and products that will become more effective, by providing longer lasting results.
Up until now, treatments for diabetics have been developed without a key understanding of the process, typically, through trial and error.
“It was done totally in the dark, I mean everything has been done indirectly, it’s not totally random, but people have stepped through the insulin molecule, tried to change this, tried to change that, seen what works, seen what doesn’t work,” Prof. Lawrence said.
“But no-one to date has actually known why it’s like that, and that’s what we’ve shown. So as new insulins will need to be developed, our work is going to form the platform for that development work,” he added.
The three-dimensional molecular structure of the insulin hormone and its receptor were identified using the Australian Synchrotron, a particle accelerator.
The study, published in the science journal Nature, was led by Australian scientists, but included collaborations with international researchers from the United Kingdom, the United States and Prague.
Close to one million Australians are diabetic, with 100,000 new diagnoses made each year. Diabetes is also the tenth biggest contributor to lifespan both in Australia and New Zealand.