SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Insulin has proven to be an essential medicine for individuals with diabetes. However, insulin acts as a threat to deep-sea predators. A tiny marine cone snail can drop the blood sugar of its prey, paralyzing it in seconds with just a single dose of venom. These findings have inspired scientists at University of Utah Health (U of U Health) and the University of Utah, as well as other universities, to create more advanced forms of injectable insulin. 

According to a U of U press release, the scientific journal Nature Chemical Biology has determined a new form of insulin whose design is based on venom from these marine snails, Conus kinoshitas. Biochemical features were introduced that provoke the snail’s insulin to begin working quickly. In turn, they created a modified form of human insulin that could offer diabetics a more efficient way to control their blood sugar.

As noted by U of U, the new molecule, which suggests a new approach for converting human insulin into a fast-acting compound, is an encouraging contender for therapeutic development. 

Back in 2020, former U of U Health professor and current Stanford protein chemist Danny Hung-Chieh Chou, Ph.D., led a team of researchers who achieved a shift of insulin’s monomeric form by adding a few molecular features of the Conus snail’s insulin into human insulin.

In conducting their research, U of U states that Chou discovered an additional 150 species of cone snails who make insulin as well. 

After the Conus snail’s unique biochemical tactics were made obvious to the team, Chou began to develop a new hybrid insulin that maintains the ability to bind the human insulin receptors but does not form troublesome molecular clusters. 

According to U of U, human insulin receptors are normally activated by the same zone of insulin that links the molecules to one another. However, in the development of the snail-human insulin hybrid, this region has been removed to prevent clustering altogether. 

“What’s really beautiful about this study is the way it spans a wide range of science, starting with the study of a fascinating question in animal behavior and leading to the multidisciplinary, collaborative development of a potential therapeutic,” said Christopher Hill, D.Phil., Vice Dean of Research for University of Utah School of Medicine. “This research has opened an exciting avenue for creating better therapeutics for people with diabetes,” he continued.