More effective diabetes treatments now possible

More effective diabetes treatments now possible

Illuminate newsletter index page, December 2018
December 2018


(L-R) Dr Yibin Xu, Mai Margetts, Associate Professor
Mike Lawrence and Dr John Menting have produced the
first high-resolution 3D image of how insulin successfully
binds to its receptor.

Improvements can now be made to make therapeutic insulins more effective, following an international study co-led by Institute researchers.

The study produced the first high-resolution 3D image of how insulin successfully binds to its receptor – a ‘gate-keeper’ found on the surface of cells – in order to transmit the vital instructions required for reducing blood
sugar levels.

Understanding exactly what this process looks like can inform the design of faster-acting and longer-lasting insulin therapies that better mimic the way insulin works in the body.

Smarter insulin therapies could help to relieve the health burden of diabetes, a disease that impacts the lives of millions worldwide.

Current therapies fall short

Associate Professor Mike Lawrence said current insulin therapies were designed without the knowledge of how insulin successfully triggered cells to lower blood sugar levels.

“It is well established that insulin instructs cells to lower blood sugar levels in the body by binding to a receptor located on the cell surface. The barrier for designing optimal insulin therapies, however, was that no one knew precisely what was occurring during this interaction.

“Our new 3D image – made up more than 700,000 2D ‘snap shots’ of insulin bound to its receptor from every angle – shows exactly what is happening,” he said.

“There it was before our eyes, the full picture in exquisite detail.”

Going forward, pharmaceutical companies will be able to use this data as a blueprint for designing therapies that optimise the body’s uptake of insulin.

This work was the outcome of more than two decades of research by structural and cell biology experts in Melbourne, working together with cryo- electron microscopy specialists at EMBL in Heidelberg and an insulin receptor specialist from the University of Chicago.

Super Content: 
Animation still showing insulin release

WEHI.TV animation: how insulin is normally produced in the body and how its production is destroyed in type 1 diabetes.

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