The discovery of insulin nearly a century ago changed diabetes from a death sentence to a chronic disease.
Today a team that includes researchers from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine announced a discovery that could lead to dramatic improvements in the lives of people managing diabetes.
After decades of speculation about exactly how insulin interacts with cells, the international group of scientists finally found a definitive answer: in an article published today in the journal Nature, the group describes how insulin binds to the cell to allow the cell to transform sugar into energyand also how the insulin itself changes shape as a result of this connection.
"These findings carry profound implications for diabetes patients," said Case Western Reserve biochemistry professor and department chair Michael A. Weiss, MD, PhD, MBA, one of the leaders of the team. "This new information increases exponentially the chances that we can develop better treatmentsin particular, oral medications instead of syringes, pens or pumps."
Weiss, also the Cowan-Blum Professor of Cancer Research at the School of Medicine, is renowned worldwide for his work on insulin. In 1991 he used nuclear magnetic resonance techniques to describe the structure of insulin; more recently he has developed a preliminary version of the hormone that does not need to be refrigerated, a critical breakthrough for those with diabetes in the developing world.
The results published today, however, represent among the most promising for Weiss and an entire generation of scientists devoted to enhancing care for those suffering from diabetes. They have sought to solve mystery of how the hormone bound to cells since 1969, when the late Dorothy Hodgkin and colleagues at the University of Oxford, first described insulin's structure.
"There's been a logjam in our understanding since then," Weiss said. "We hope that we've broken the logjam
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Case Western Reserve University