MELBOURNE, Sept. 13 (Xinhua) -- The venom of a carnivorous sea snail could hold the key for artificial, fast-acting insulin for diabetes patients, an Australian study has found.
Researchers from Melbourne's Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI) discovered the unusual three-dimensional structure of the insulin, a hormone that turns glucose ingested into liver and skeletal muscle cells, within the cone snail's venom.
Mike Lawrence, leader of WEHI's participation in the research, said the discovery was a significant step and would enable scientists to engineer an artificial version of the fast-acting insulin.
Lawrence said the artificial insulin, used to maintain a healthy level of glucose in the blood of diabetes patients, would work instantaneously compared to the insulin currently used which requires 15 minutes to take effect.
"Our breakthrough has been to determine the structure of this venom insulin," Lawrence told Fairfax Media on Tuesday.
"The ah-ha moment' was realizing that it doesn't have the hinge mechanism that human insulin does and then working out how it gets by without it."
Lawrence said insulin developed from the snail venom could be administered to patients suffering from type one, type two and gestational diabetes.
The cone snail uses its venom on fish, a vertebrate species similar to humans, which made researchers believe that the venom's insulin would work on humans.
"Fish are closer to us than snails," Lawrence said. "The fish is fast-moving and the snail is not fast-moving. So a snail needs to have a venom that is fast acting."
Diabetes Australia said that 280 Australians develop diabetes every day.
The research is an ongoing international collaboration between scientists from America, Denmark and Australia.