Snail Venom Could Lead to Improved Diabetes Treatments

Fast-acting Conus geographus venom insulin may lead to fast-acting insulins.

Researchers recently discovered that venom from a certain type of marine cone snail could help create fast-acting insulins, and improve treatment options for patients with diabetes.

Many patients with diabetes rely on insulin to prevent adverse health outcomes and disease worsening. An ultra-fast-acting insulin may allow patients to experience immediate relief from symptoms associated with hypoglycemia.

In a study published by Nature Structural and Molecular Biology, researchers were able to determine the structure of a cone snail venom insulin, Con-Ins G1, and how these proteins work faster than human insulin.

“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,” said researcher Mike Lawrence, PhD.

Con-Ins G1 was also able to switch on human insulin signaling pathways. By doing so, the cone snail insulin is able to bind to human insulin receptors, potentially providing important therapeutic applications in humans.

“The structure of human insulins contain an extra 'hinge' component that has to open before any 'molecular handshake' or connection between insulin and receptor can take place,” Dr Lawrence said. “By studying the 3-dimensional structure of this snail venom insulin we've found how to dispense with this 'hinge' entirely, which may accelerate the cell signaling process and thus the speed with which the insulin takes effect.”

Their most recent findings build on previous studies where the group of researchers found that the marine cone snail used an insulin-based venom to trap their pray.

“The next step in our research, which is already underway, is to apply these findings to the design of new and better treatments for diabetes, giving patients access to faster-acting insulins,” said researcher Dr Helena Safvi-Hemami.