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Snail's pace plenty fast enough for insulin.

The structure of an insulin molecule produced by predatory cone snails (to stun their prey) looks to be an improvement over current fast-acting therapeutic insulin, suggest findings from researchers at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City. The snail insulin could begin working in as few as five minutes, compared with 15 minutes for the fastest-acting insulin currently available.

Helena Safavi, professor of biology and coauthor of a paper published in Nature Structural & Molecular Biology, says that studying complex venom cocktails can open doors to new drug discoveries. "You look at what venoms animals make to affect the physiology of their prey, and you use that as a starting point. You can get new ideas from venoms. To have something that has already been evolved--that's a huge advantage."

Human insulin is a hormone that is produced in the pancreas and secreted to aid in the body's uptake of glucose. The insulin molecule consists of an "A" region and a "B" region. Diabetes mellitus disorders arise from impairment of the body's normal production of insulin. The most-effective treatment is injection of synthetic insulin.

However, a part of the B region causes insulin molecules to stick together and form aggregations of six insulin molecules. It is how insulin is stored in the pancreas, but injected insulin must deaggregate into individual molecules before doing a person any good--and that process can take up to an hour. The fastest-acting insulin on the market takes 15-30 minutes to become active. "The ideal scenario would be to take the region off of the B chain," Safavi explains, "but then you completely abolish insulin activity."

The cone snail (Conus geographus) lacks the segment of the B region that causes aggregation. Tests on insulin receptors in the lab show that, although the snail insulin was less effective than human insulin, it still was effective, and possibly could start acting in five minutes.

The predatory C. geographus and its relatives have developed complex brews of venoms to paralyze prey fish rapidly. Some snails use venom to overload the fish's nervous system, sending it into "excitotoxic shock." Others, including C. geographus, secrete insulin, alongside other compounds, into the water, causing the blood sugar in nearby fish to plummet and sending the fish into hypoglycemic sedation. Once the fish is stunned, the snail engulfs and consumes it.

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Title Annotation:Drug Discoveries
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2017
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