A snail holds the secret to treating diabetes, a new study shows. A team of researchers from Australia and the US found that the venom of a marine cone snail is a key ingredient for ultra-fast-acting insulins that are more effective than current treatments.

The scientists extracted natural proteins called Con-Ins G1 from the snail’s venom. They say that the proteins work faster than human insulin. The remarkable findings have been published in the journal Structural and Molecular Biology.

“We found that cone snail venom insulins work faster than human insulins by avoiding the structural changes that human insulins undergo in order to function — they are essentially primed and ready to bind to their receptors,” says Mike Lawrence, an associate professor from Melbourne’s Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research Associate Professor Lawrence.

This research was inspired by another study conducted by University of Utah, which also collaborated in the new study. In 2015, researchers at this university found that the snail Conus geographus used an insulin-based venom that causes hyperglycaemic shock and immobility to its prey.

University of Utah‘s Helena Safavi-Hemami said they wanted to find out how the cone snail insulin was capable of producing such an immediate effect to its prey. They are thrilled to find that the principles of cone snail venom insulin is safe for use by humans.

“Our Flinders University colleagues have shown that the cone snail insulin can ‘switch on’ human insulin cell signalling pathways, meaning the cone snail insulin is able to successfully bind to human receptors,” adds Safavi-Hemami. “The next step in our research, which is already underway, is to apply these findings to the design of new and better treatments for diabetes, giving patients access to faster-acting insulins,” she said.

Other collaborators include the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, La Trobe University and Flinders University in Australia.