By Miriam Raftery
December 8, 2015 (San Diego)—A lowly lizard—and a poisonous one at that—could hold the secret to treating diabetes.
Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute say that they have altered molecules from a protein found in venom of Gila Monster lizards, then using a process called autocrine selection, activate cellular receptors in positive ways.
There is already one drug on the market based on a synthetic version of a protein derived from gila monster venom.
Now the scientists derived a powerful peptide, P5, that can stimulate the pancreas to create insulin-producing beta cells. It also helps create fat cells that are more receptive to insulin, boosting insulin resistance with no impact on appetite or weight.
In a study of mice, P5 boosted glucose tolerance more effectively than previous diabetes medications have done.
Next up, researchers will be looking to develop a new diabetes drug using P5 for treatment of type-2 diabetes.
The discovery could have huge implications. In the United States, 9.3% of the population has been diagnosed with diabetes—and of those cases, 95% of them in 30 million Americans are type-2 diabetes cases.
Even more importantly, scientists say the powerful new drug discovery technique could lead to other treatments for more diseases.
Autocrine selection, which enables scientists to screen very large libraries of molecules to find those that not only bind a given cellular receptor but also activate it to bring about a desired therapeutic effect. Collaborating scientists at Scripps’ Lerner Laboratory have used the technique to find new molecules that ultimately kill cancer cells and even block infection by the common cold virus.