SOLVING a 20-year scientific mystery could herald the end of insulin injections for diabetes sufferers.
A Melbourne-based research team has made a landmark discovery about the intricate way insulin uses the insulin receptor to bind to cell surfaces.
This binding is necessary for cells to take up sugar from the blood as energy and could help in developing improved insulin types for treating type 1 and type 2 diabetes
Associate Professor Mike Lawrence - from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute's structural biology division - said until this time scientists had not been able to capture how the molecules interacted with cells.
He said insulin controlled when and how glucose was used in the human body but generating new types of insulin was limited by the inability to see how insulin docked.
"We can now exploit this knowledge to design new insulin medications with improved properties, which is very exciting," he said.
"We have now found that the insulin hormone engages its receptor in a very unusual way.
"Both insulin and its receptor undergo rearrangement as they interact - a piece of insulin folds out and key pieces within the receptor move to engage the insulin hormone.
"You might call it a molecular handshake."
Australia is facing an increasing epidemic of type 2 diabetes.
There are now about one million Australians living with diabetes and about 100,000 new diagnoses each year.
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