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February 13, 2019

Snail venom boasts potentially blood-sugar balancing qualities to treat Type 1 diabetes, study suggests

Illness Diabetes
snail unsplash Krzysztof Niewolny/Unsplash

With shortages projected for insulin, the study published Tuesday suggesting that snail venom holds the potential for balancing blood sugar doesn’t seem as outlandish as it might.

In an effort to develop faster acting insulin for Type 1 diabetes, a study published in eLife found that three different types of cone snails — Conus geographus, C. tulipa and C. kinoshitai — all released fast-acting insulin venom to kill their prey.

According to MindBodyGreen, insulin contains two segments — A and B chains. The B chain is necessary to activate the body’s insulin receptors and lower blood sugar, but in manufactured insulin, it slows the time for the diabetes drug to take effect. This delay raises an issue for Type 1 diabetics that need insulin fast.

RELATED READ: Major breakthrough in search for cure of Type 1 diabetes, researchers say

A person with Type 1 diabetes is unable to produce insulin and requires daily injections to manage their blood sugar. Despite decades of research, the manufactured insulin continues to contain the B chain in order to activate the receptor to lower blood sugar, delaying the drug's effect by 30 to 90 minutes, Business Standard reports.

Type 2 diabetes, however, is a chronic condition linked to poor diet and sedentary lifestyles. There's no cure for Type 2 diabetes, but losing weight, eating well and exercising can help manage the disease, Mayo Clinic explains. 

Researchers from the University of Utah studied the insulin makeup from the cone snails, and found none of them contained B chain. Interested in how this insulin could affect blood sugar levels, they injected the venom in Type 1 diabetic zebrafish and mice and found that it not only lowered blood sugar quickly, it also activated the insulin receptors, which can also be found in humans.

"We are beginning to uncover the secrets of cone snails," said Helena Safavi-Hemami, Ph.D., assistant professor of biochemistry at University of Utah Health and senior author on the paper. "We hope to use what we learn to find new approaches to treat diabetes."

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