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11:49 AM September 14

Australian scientists have made an important discovery about the structure of the substance, insulin.

Researchers from the CSIRO division of molecular and health technologies have discovered the structure of the proteins that sit on the outside of insulin cells.

Insulin is a hormone secreted by cells in the pancreas.

In patients with diabetes, their supply of insulin is reduced or impaired.

Dr Colin Ward and his team have been working on the project since the early 1990s and says the discovery will lead to new therapies to treat diabetes.

"This is a landmark achievement, a bit like running the four-minute mile," he said.

"It follows on from the discovery of insulin in 1922, the determination of its amino acid sequence in the early 1950s and the determination of the 3D structure of insulin in 1969, each of which involved Nobel Prize winners.

"The receptor was discovered in 1969 and its amino acid sequence determined in 1985 but attempts to solve its 3D structure have been unsuccessful until now.

"It's very exciting that our team has finally established what the receptor looks like."

The chief of CSIRO Molecular and Health Technologies, Dr Graeme Woodrow, says the team has been at the forefront of research on the structural biology of the insulin receptor family for a long time.

"With their collaborators at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research and the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, [they] were the first to publish important structures from the structurally related epidermal growth factor receptor family of proteins," he said.

"To beat other research teams to this discovery as well, speaks to the quality of Australian science."

Dr Ward says the challenge for the future is to understand how insulin or IGF binding to their receptors triggers off cellular events that regulate the body's uptake and utilisation of sugar or stimulate unregulated cell growth.

"When we know this we may be able to exploit this information to develop new treatments, but that is a long way off into the future," he said.

The findings have been published in the journal Nature.

Source: ABC

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