World's first images of insulin in action
An Australian-led research team has obtained the world’s first 3D pictures of insulin in the process of binding to cell surfaces so that the cells can take up sugar from the blood. The work will enable development of improved forms of insulin for treating type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
The insulin binding process, in which the insulin docks with a specialised insulin receptor on the surface of the cells, has been under investigation for more than 20 years. If the docking process doesn’t work for some reason, cells can’t take up sugar from the blood and convert it into energy.
Researchers from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research (WEHI) in Melbourne used x-ray diffraction at the Australian Synchrotron to obtain highly detailed, three-dimensional images of insulin and the insulin receptor. The synchrotron x-ray images show that both insulin and the insulin receptor change their shape in order to bind with each other.
The work is described in a paper published in January 2013 in Nature, one of the world’s most prestigious scientific journals.
WEHI Associate Professor Mike Lawrence said the work would not have been possible without access to the Australian Synchrotron’s specialised MX2 micro-focus beamline and the synchrotron MX team led by Dr Tom Caradoc-Davies, who keep the beamline operating at world-class standard.
Photo above: Mike Lawrence (LHS) and colleagues. Photo: WEHI.
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